PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court on Wednesday directed the Election Commission of Pakistan to respond within a fortnight to a petition against the delimitation of the countrywide constituencies by the ECP as well as its “steps to delay” general elections.

A bench consisting of Justice Syed Arshad Ali and Justice Dr Khursheed Iqbal fixed Sept 11 for next hearing into the petition of lawyer Naeem Ahmad Khattak challenging the ECP’s Aug 17 notification for delimitation of constituencies and seeking orders for protecting the election period specified by Article 224 of the Constitution.

It also asked the ECP to respond to the plea for interim relief of suspending the impugned notification until final decision.

The petitioner called for contempt proceedings under Article 204 of the Constitution against Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and four members of the commission for ‘violating’ the April 4 Supreme Court orders for conducting elections in Punjab on May 14, 2023.

Petitioner also claims commission taking steps to delay elections

The respondents in the petition are the ECP through its secretary, the CEC, four ECP members, and secretary of the Supreme Judicial Council.

Advocate Ali Azim Afridi appeared for the petitioner and said the people at the helm of affairs, including the respondents, were responsible for organising and conducting elections honestly, fairly and in accordance with the law but they had been taking measures to delay them.

He said that the ECP, by issuing a notification and a news release on Aug 17, had choreographed a systematic plan with systemic overtones allowing a delay in the holding of elections in the country at the cost of dispensing with mandatory constitutional provisions.

Mr Afridi contended that in the news release, based on the impugned notification, the respondents “shadowed legal obligation over constitutional dispensation.”

When the bench asked him whether any petition had been filed with the Supreme Court on the matter, he replied in affirmative insisting the petition had been scheduled for hearing by the apex court.

Assistant attorney general Altaf Ahmad told the bench that three petitions had so far been filed in the Supreme Court on the same issue, but he did not possess the record of those cases.

“Back-to-back commandments reflecting a delay in general elections are, more or less and seemingly, an addition to the wish-list of a few persons having constitutional duties and responsibilities on their end,” said Mr Afridi.

He contended that the ECP’s impugned notification was uncalled-for as well as against the Constitution and law.

The lawyer contended that the notification “offended” and impinged upon the Constitution’s provisions guaranteeing people’s fundamental rights.

He said the holding of elections on time was a constitutionally-embedded right.

Mr Afridi contended that when the law required a thing to be done in a particular manner, it should happen that way as anything done in conflict with the command of law would be prohibited for being unlawful.

He insisted that the ECP had no powers under the Constitution to delay the issuance of an election schedule.

Through the impugned notification, the ECP issued the schedule for the delimitation of the countrywide constituencies in line with official results of the Seventh Population and Housing Census, 2023.

According to the schedule, the delimitation process began on Aug 17 and will culminate with the final delimitation publication on Dec 14, 2023.

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2023

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