• Informs commission of ‘tricky’ security situation, suggests polls be held alongside Punjab on Oct 8
• President writes to PM to ensure compliance with SC order, prevent ‘human rights abuses’

PESHAWAR: Taking a cue from the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) move to postpone general elections in Punjab until October 8, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Gover­­nor Ghulam Ali on Friday proposed the same date for holding of elections in his province as well.

On the same day when the governor wrote to the ECP, President Dr Arif Alvi also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, asking him and all the relevant executive authorities of the federal and provincial governments to assist the commission in holding elections in both provinces, in compliance with Supreme Court’s March 1 order.

The SC had ruled that elections in KP and Punjab should be held within 90 days, after the dissolution of provincial assemblies in January, or on a date that ‘deviates to the barest minimum’ from the constitutional deadline.

The KP governor, in his fourth letter to the ECP — seen by Dawn — invited the commission’s attention to several militant attacks, including cross-border firing in North Waziristan, an IED blast on an army vehicle in Kohat and a heavy exchange of fire with terrorists in South Waziristan.

The governor also mentioned the recent attack on a police station in Dera Ismail Khan and the incident in South Waziristan where a brigadier had embraced martyrdom.

The governor wrote that since it had lately postponed elections in Punjab and announced Oct 8 as the new date, the same date was proposed for holding elections in KP in the larger public interest.

Claiming that SC orders would be fully implemented, he said he desired free, fair and peaceful polls in the province, but residents of tribal districts were protesting against the conduct of general elections before the announcement of new census results, he added.

According to the KP governor, the security situation in the province is completely different from that of Punjab. “I have shared my opinion with the ECP and the rest is ECP’s job,” he said, adding that the commission was a constitutional body.

Earlier on March 15, the governor without officially communicating his decision to the ECP, announced that general elections to the provincial assembly would be held on May 28.

Just three days later, he backtracked and called for addressing ‘key challenges’ before rescheduling the elections.

Alvi’s letter

In what appears to be a charge-sheet of the PML-N-led coalition government, President Alvi urged authorities to “refrain” from committing human rights abuses and hold elections in the two provinces “to avoid further complications, including contempt of court”.

In his letter to PM Sharif, who is also president of the PML-N, President Alvi said he was writing the letter as the print, electronic and social media highlighted “glaring violations of fundamental and human rights that needed to be brought to the prime minister’s notice to ensure remedial measures and preventive action”.

The president, whose five-year constitutional term is set to be complete in September, said it appeared the federal and caretaker governments in the Punjab and KP had advised the heads of departments concerned to show their inability to provide necessary support for holding of general elections. He underlined that in his opinion, “flagrant violation of the constitution had been committed by the executive authorities and government departments”, regretting that the ECP had not implemented his announcement of holding of elections in Punjab on April 30 and also “blatantly violated” the SC order.

The letter, the contents of which were released to the media by the presidency, referred to Article 220, which states “it shall be the duty of all executive authorities in the federation and in the provinces to assist the commissioner and the ECP in the discharge of his or their functions”.

He also complained that the PM did not hold any “meaningful consultation” with the president on policy issues in line with Article 46 that provided the premier shall keep the president informed on all matters of internal and foreign policy and on all legislative proposals the government intended to bring before the parliament.

Police atrocities and media curbs

The president also drew PM Sharif’s attention towards “the seriousness of incidents of human rights violations, atrocities of police and law enforcement agencies and grossly disproportionate use of force against the citizens of Pakistan”.

In his apparent reference to the registration of cases against PTI leaders and supporters following violent clashes with police in Lahore and Islamabad, the president said, “Multiple fake and frivolous cases” had been registered against politicians, workers, journalists and media persons, houses of political workers had been raided, and “citizens had been abducted without warrants and lawful justification”.

The president also highlighted that Pakistan ranked 145 out of 180 countries in World Press Freedom Index of 2021but dropped by 12 positions to 157 last year, reflecting the sorry state of affairs.

This year’s actions and images would further exacerbate Pakistan’s already dismal ranking, he said, adding that in recent months, media had been further suppressed and journalists had also been subjected to sedition and terrorism charges to stifle dissent and criticism. “It appears that a reign of terror has been unleashed against the media persons who have independent opinions,” Dr Alvi remarked.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2023

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