ISLAMABAD: The PTI has moved the Supreme Court to set aside the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) order to put off Punjab Assembly elections till Oct 8.

The petition, moved by PTI Secretary General Asad Umar, former Punjab Asse­m­bly speaker Mohammad Sib­tain Khan, former Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Speaker Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani and ex-lawmakers of Punjab Abdul Rehman and Mian Mahmoodur Rashid, pleaded that the ECP’s decision was in violation of the Constitution and tantamount to amending and subverting it.

On March 22, the ECP had put off the elections for more than five months citing the deteriorating security situation in the country and the unavailability of security personnel.

Barrister Syed Ali Zafar moved the petition on behalf of the PTI officials on Saturday with a request to order the ECP to hold the elections on the date fixed earlier — April 30. The petition also sought directions for the federal government to ensure law and order, provisions of funds and security personnel as per the ECP’s need to hold the elections.

Party says shortage of funds, personnel can’t be used to justify putting off general elections

It also requested the court to direct the KP governor to announce the date for elections to the provincial assembly. A day ago, KP Governor Ghulam Ali also proposed Oct 8 as the date for holding elections in the province. Earlier, he had announced May 28 as the date for polls.

Tantamount to amending Constitution

The PTI’s petition questioned the ECP’s authority to “amend the Constitution” and asked how it could decide to delay elections to any assembly beyond the period of 90 days from the date of dissolution of the said assembly as mandated by the Constitution.

The petition argued that the ECP was bound to obey and implement the judgments of the Supreme Court and had no power or jurisdiction to overrule or review them.

In its March 1 verdict, the Supreme Court ordered to hold the election to the Punjab Assembly within 90 days and that the date be announced by the president. It also directed the authorities to provide funds and security personnel to ECP for the elections, the petition recalled.

The ECP cannot act in defiance of the Supreme Court’s directions as it has done in this case which was illegal and liable to be set aside, the petition pleaded.

By announcing Oct 8 as the date, the ECP has delayed the elections for more than 183 days beyond the 90-day limit as prescribed in the Constitution.

The petitions said the ECP’s excuses to justify the delay were “flimsy, irrational, absurd and fabricated”.

The inevitable consequence of the postponement of elections will be that the caretaker government will continue to remain in office, the petition stated, adding that the Constitution has no provision to extend “unelected” caretaker governments beyond 90 days.

“It is very clear in the Constitution that the tenure of the caretaker government is temporary and it is only to facilitate the transition from one government to another,” the petition said.

Referring to the excuse that the armed forces were involved in counter terrorism activities and cannot provide personnel for election duties, the petition argued that the armed forces may not be required to enforce law and order which was the duty of the federal and caretaker provincial governments through the police and other personnel.

Wrong precedent

The petition said that if the excuse of unavailability of security personnel was accepted this time, it will set a precedent to delay any future elections.

The petition added that there was no assurance that these factors — financial constraints, security situation and non-availability of security personnel — would improve by Oct 8.

The petition said the ECP’s reason that the law and order situation was not conducive to holding elections was “legally flawed and a disingenuous excuse to postpone the elections” because such a reason was not recognised by the Constitution to be the pretext for delaying polls.

Law and order was the responsibility of the federal and provincial governments and the provincial caretaker government or the Centre express their inability to provide security for elections nor can the ECP rely on such pretexts to delay the election, the petition said.

The “so-called excuse” would mean the Constitution could be held in abeyance every time elections were due, the petitioners feared adding that in the past similar situations have persisted, but elections were held in spite of them.

These situations can’t be used as excuses to “subvert” the Constitution and deny people their right to elect representatives.

“Not holding elections in case of threats by terrorists will amount to giving in to the threats, which is in fact the aim of all terrorist activities,” the petition explained.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2023

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