President Arif Alvi has invited Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja for a meeting today or tomorrow to “fix an appropriate date” for general elections.

Alvi wrote a letter to the CEC today, citing the constitutional requirement for the president to decide a date for general elections within 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly (NA).

In the letter, posted on the Presidency’s account on X (formerly Twitter), the president noted that the NA was dissolved on the advice of then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif on August 9 — three days ahead of its mandated period.

And “by virtue of Article 48(5) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the president is obliged to appoint a date not later than 90 days from the date of dissolution for the holding of general elections of [the] assembly”, the letter read.

In view of this, he added, the CEC was invited to meet him today or tomorrow to set an “appropriate date” for elections.

While the president has cited the constitutional provisions that elaborate on his role in deciding the election date, a recent amendment to the Elections Act 2017 empowered the Election Commission of Pakistan to announce the dates for polls unilaterally without having to consult the president.

Alvi’s invitation to the CEC comes against the backdrop of the Election Commission of Pakistan having ruled out elections this year, following the notification of the latest 2023 digital census.

Since the NA was dissolved three days before the end of its constitutional term, Article 224 of the Constitution mandates that elections be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the assembly.

But at the same time, Section 17(2) of the Elections Act states that “the commission shall delimit constituencies after every census is officially published.”

In line with this requirement, the ECP said last week the process of fresh delimitation of national and provincial assembly constituencies was expected to be completed by December 14 — over a month beyond the constitutionally mandated deadline for conducting general elections.

However, after the ECP’s announcement last week, a Dawn report quoted an official of the commission as saying that the electoral watchdog was not legally bound to “immediately” carry out fresh delimitation of constituencies after the official notification of census results.

Views on president’s role

Sharing his views on the president’s letter to the CEC, Chairman of Islamabad-based public policy think tank Pildat Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said it seemed that Alvi was aiming to exercise his prerogative under Article 48.

However, the president was bound by the prime minister’s advice and could not independently exercise this authority, he said while speaking to Geo News.

“If the president’s letter is based on the prime minister’s advice, it aligns with the Constitution. Otherwise, it deviates from the Constitution,” he added. “It is not the president’s discretionary power to set a date [for the elections].”

On the recent amendment to the Elections Act, he said the law was secondary to the Constitution but again emphasised that the president could not independently set an election date unless advised by the prime minister.

He further disagreed with the ECP assertion to hold elections after a fresh delimitation of constituencies.“Personally, I find this interpretation unsatisfactory. I believe the Constitution mandates elections … From my perspective, delimitations are not constitutionally necessary.”

Mehboob said he could see this matter “ultimately ending up in the Supreme Court”.

Later, former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad maintained while speaking on ARY News show ‘Off the Record’ that the electoral watchdog was an independent entity and did not fall under the president’s authority.

He said the constitutional amendment to the Elections Act 2017 had effectively removed the president’s power to intervene in electoral affairs. “Even if the president announces an election date on his own, the ECP would dismiss it,” he asserted.

But Supreme Court Bar Association President Barrister Abid Shahid Zuberi, on the same show, argued that if the ECP disregarded the president’s directives, it would breach the Constitution.

He maintained that the legality of the proposed meeting between the president and the CEC couldn’t be questioned, and if the ECP declined to announce an election date, it would become the president’s “responsibility” to do so.

ECP invites parties for poll talks

For its part, the ECP has invited four political parties — the PPP, PML-N, PTI and Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) — for discussions on matters pertaining to elections.

The commission sent four separate letters to the parties’ heads today, copies of which are available with Dawn.com.

The letters state that the ECP “is charged with the constitutional duty to organise and conduct elections in terms of Article 218(3) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with the law and that corrupt practices are guarded against”.

They add: “Keeping in view the political scenario, the Election Commission of Pakistan has decided to take on board and invite your party to discuss the electoral roadmap with your feedback on […] the delimitation of constituencies, updating electoral rolls, conduct of general elections, schedule for elections and other related matters.”

The ECP has asked the party heads to hold these talks in person or through their representatives, with PML-N invited to its secretariat in Islamabad on August 25 at 11am, the JUI-F on August 24 at 3pm, the PTI too on August 24 at 2pm and the PPP on August 29 at 3pm.

“The names of the representatives/ participants who will participate in the said meeting may be shared with the office today positively,” the letters read.

Later, PML-N Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb confirmed that her party had received the letter from the ECP.

“The Election Commission of Pakistan has invited the PML-N to the election commission’s [office] on August 25 at 11am,” a statement posted by the PML-N on X quoted her as saying.

The statement said the party had constituted a seven-member delegation for the talks, comprising Ahsan Iqbal, Azam Nazeer Tarar, Zahid Hamid, Rana Sanaullah, Saad Rafique, Amir Muqam and Attaullah Tarar.

The JUI-F also confirmed on X that its delegation, led by party General Secretary Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, would visit the ECP’s Secretariat at 3pm on Thursday (tomorrow).

In addition to Haideri, the delegation would include Senator Kamran Murtaza, Advocate Jalaluddin and Maulana Attaul Haq Darvish, the party statement said.

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