• Commission holds meeting to discuss invitation, final decision expected today
• Opinion divided over whether Sikandar Sultan Raja should meet President Alvi, or not

ISLAMABAD: President Arif Alvi on Wednesday invited Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja for a meeting in two days to fix a date for elections, despite the fact that under newly-passed legislation, the electoral body has the powers to fix the date for polling, without having to consult the president.

The invitation for the meeting, proposed to be held on Wednesday or Thursday, was conveyed through a letter written by President Alvi, who has been in the limelight over the past few days owing to his tweet, claiming he did not sign the controversial bills amending the Official Secrets Act and the Pakistan Army Act.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) held a meeting on the matter, but did not make it clear whether the CEC will meet the president or not. The ECP will meet again on Thursday (today) to discuss the presidential invitation.

However, insiders say the CEC is unlikely to meet the president.

In his letter, President Alvi quoted Article 244 of the Constitution, saying he was duty-bound to get the elections conducted in the 90 days’ prescribed period once the National Assembly is dissolved prematurely.

“Whereas, the National Assembly was dissolved on the advice of the prime minister by the president on 09.08.2023. Whereas 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 ninety days from the date of dissolution for the holding of the general elections,” the president’s letter said.

He quoted clause 5 of Article 48 as follows, “Where the president dissolves the National Assembly, notwithstanding anything contained in clause (1), he shall, appoint a date, not later than ninety days from the date of the dissolution, for the holding of a general election to the assembly; and appoint a caretaker cabinet in accordance with the provisions of article 224 or, as the case may be, article 224A.”

According to the letter, “foregoing in view, the Chief Election Commissioner is invited for a meeting with the President today or tomorrow to fix an appropriate date”.

On Feb 20, President Alvi had unilaterally announced April 9 as the date for elections to the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies as the PTI governments had dissolved the two legislatures before the expiry of their five-year term on the orders of party chairman Imran Khan. The president’s unilateral announcement had come after his invitation for consultations on dates for elections to the two assemblies had been turned down by the ECP.

However, the situation has changed now, as under recent amendments to election laws, the CEC has been empowered to fix the date for polls without the president’s input.

The amendments to the Elections Act 2017 were made in June. “To further strengthen the commission, amendments in sections 57(1) and 58(1) of the Elections Act 2017 are required to allow the ECP to announce poll dates for general elections on its own,” the amendment read.

PPP leader and former chairman Senate Raza Rabbani has also asked the ECP to hold elections in 90 days, but expressed no trust in the president.

In a statement, Mr Rabbani feared that “a delay beyond ninety days will be followed by a series of constitutional crises”.

Mr Rabbani said that under the proviso to Article 44(1), Mr Alvi will continue as president till his successor assumes office.

“A president who does not fulfil his constitutional duty in terms of Article 75(1)...and makes a false statement regarding official business before him, should be impeached but [he] will continue in office,” he added.

Meanwhile, former ECP secretary Kunwar Dlishad while participating in an ARY News programme, said the ECP team would not appear before the president.

When contacted, the ECP spokesperson said the commission had called a meeting on the president’s letter on Thursday. He said the ECP’s official stance on the invitation will come after the meeting.

However, Free and Fair Election Network representative Mudassar Rizvi while talking to Dawn said CEC Raja should meet the president in respect for the highest office of the country.

“In fact the president had appointed the chief election commissioner and he should meet the president to discuss many election-related matters, including delimitation of constituencies,” he added.

Mr Rizvi said the ECP rules had empowered the commission to extend the elections date even after it has been fixed. “In 2008 elections, Feb 8 was fixed for polling but it was later extended to Feb 28,” he recalled.

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2023

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