Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja on Thursday responded to the letter written to him by President Arif Alvi for meeting to “fix an appropriate date” for general elections, saying that participating in such a confab would be of “scant importance” after changes to the election law.
The president had written to Raja on Wednesday, inviting him for a meeting regarding holding general elections in the country.
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 August 9. 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.”
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 Election Commission of Pakistan (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.
In the letter addressed to the president today, CEC Raja said it was “imperative” to point out that Section 57 of the Elections Act had been amended due to an act of Parliament, which had empowered the commission to “announce the date or dates for the general elections”.
“Where the president dissolves the National Assembly, in his discretion, as provided in Article 58(2) read with Article 48(5) of the Constitution then he has to appoint a date for the general elections. However, if the assembly is dissolved on the advice of the prime minister or by afflux of time as provided in Article 58(1) of the Constitution, then the commission understands and believes that power to appoint a date or dates for elections rests exclusively with the Commission.
“The commission believes with utmost respect that the reliance placed on the provisions of the Constitution mentioned on your subject letter are not applicable in this context,” Raja’s letter said.
The CEC said that the delimitation of constituencies, after the approval of the digital census, was one of the “foundational legal steps” towards holding polls.
Raja said that the ECP was taking its responsibility of holding general elections in the country “very seriously” and had also invited major political parties to give their views on the electoral map.
“Notwithstanding the declared position of the commission referred herein above. it is stated with all reverence that the commission holds the office of the president in high esteem and it has always been an honor to meet and seek your kind guidance on national issues at an opportune time.
“In view of the above, the commission is of the considered view that participation in the meeting would be of scant consequence,” Raja said.
Later, the Presidency said on X (formerly Twitter) that it had sought the law ministry’s advice on the CEC’s letter.
“The Presidency has asked for advice on the Election Commission of Pakistan’s stance that only it had the authority to decide the election date,” the statement on X said.
ECP begins consultations with political parties
Separately, the ECP began consultations with political parties on matters pertaining to general elections today.
The consultations begin a day after the ECP sent identical letters to four political parties, inviting them to discuss the electoral roadmap, the delimitation of constituencies, updating electoral rolls, conduct of general elections, schedule for elections and other related matters.
The ECP met the representatives of the Jamiat-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the PTI today and later shared the details of the interactions in an official statement.
The statement said the PTI stressed the importance of conducting the elections within 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly on August 9 — which is the constitutionally mandated period for organising elections.
However, the ECP has already ruled out the possibility of elections within this timeframe following the notification of the 2023 digital census, citing the requirement for fresh delimitations of constituencies.
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, the PTI was of the view during today’s meeting that fresh delimitation was not a necessity, the ECP statement said, adding that the party “also emphasised the need for a level-playing field [for itself] in the electoral competition, similar to what other political parties are provided”.
It also called for the prompt release of incarcerated party leaders, the statement said.
For its part, the JUI-F advocated for the prioritisation of delimitation procedures, the statement added.
“The JUI-F delegation urged the ECP to complete the delimitation process ahead of advancing further, ensuring a seamless experience for all political parties, candidates, and voters in the forthcoming elections.”
The ECP stated that both delegations were given assurance that the commission was committed to ensuring that elections were held at the earliest possible time and a level-playing field for all political parties.
Following the JUI-F’s meeting with the ECP, party leader Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri said while speaking to the media that their emphasis was on timely elections but fresh delimitation was also necessary.
Meanwhile, PTI’s Barrister Ali Zafar told journalists that the meeting was held in an amicable atmosphere. He said his party conveyed its stance to the ECP that the commission lacked the authority to conduct delimitations without a constitutional amendment as two of the chief ministers who participated in the Council of Common Interests meeting that approved the new census were caretakers.
Moreover, he added, the PTI also raised the question of how would a level playing field be ensured in the elections when the party chief was in jail.
Later in a post on X (formerly Twitter), PTI leader Ali Muhammad Khan said that the party had brought up several matters during the meeting, foremost among them being their request for the elections to take place within the stipulated 90-day timeframe following the dissolution of the assemblies.
He further revealed that the PTI also strongly urged for permission to engage in political activities. Khan articulated, “It is vital that overseas Pakistanis are granted their rightful participation in the political process.”
He added that the party also called for an “enabling environment” to ensure free and fair elections.
The ECP is set to hold a meeting with the PML-N tomorrow and with PPP on August 29.
CEC meets US envoy
Separately, US Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome held a meeting with the CEC to “reaffirm the United States’ support for free and fair elections conducted in accordance with Pakistan’s laws and constitution”, according to a statement by a spokesperson from the US Embassy.
“The ambassador reiterated that choosing Pakistan’s future leaders is for the Pakistani people to decide, and that the US remains committed to working to broaden and deepen the US–Pakistan ties with whomever the Pakistani people choose,” the statement said.
Responding to the meeting via X, PTI spokesperson Raoof Hasan highlighted that the interaction between the US envoy and the CEC, whom he alleged “has consistently defied the constitution and the laws that stem from it,” was being viewed with a sense of concern.