ISLAMABAD: As expected, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja on Thursday declined President Arif Alvi’s invitation for consultations to fix a date for polls, saying that under an amended law, such a meeting would be of “scant consequence”.
In his response to the presidential letter — a copy of which is available with Dawn — the CEC claimed the president had no role to play in the process of deciding when to hold elections.
President Alvi, on the other hand, has sought the opinion of the Ministry of Law and Justice on the position taken by the ECP.
In reply to the president’s invitation, the CEC pointed out that the National Assembly had been dissolved on the advice of the prime minister. He referred to a recent amendment to Section 57 of the Elections Act, 2017.
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It explains that prior to the amendment of Section 57(1), the president was required to consult the commission in terms of Section 57 of the Elections Act, 2017, before appointing a date for election.
“However, after the amendment in Section 57, the Commission has been empowered 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”, it reads.
The ECP claims that the provisions of Constitution referred to in the president’s letter were not applicable in the present context. It says that Article 48(1) of the Constitution provides that the president shall act on the advice of the prime minister. “It is on record that the National Assembly was dissolved on the advice of the Prime Minister; therefore, the provisions of Article 48(5) are not attracted thereto,” says the commission.
The CEC pointed out that delimitation of constituencies was one of the foundational legal steps towards elections. In pursuance of the last preceding census officially published on Aug 7, 2023, the commission decided to carry out fresh delimitation of constituencies as provided under Section 17(2) of the Elections Act, 2017, to protect the fundamental rights of contesting candidates, political parties and electorates as guaranteed under Article 17(2) of the Constitution.
The commission, he said, was taking its responsibility of holding the general election very seriously and had also initiated the process of inviting major political parties for obtaining their views on the electoral roadmap. It says that the commission holds the office of president in high esteem and it has always been an honour to meet and seek his kind guidance on national issues at an opportune time.
“[However]…..the Commission is of the considered view that participation in the meeting would be of scant consequence,” the CEC insists in his response to the invitation.
Later, in a letter to the law secretary, the president asked for the latter’s view on the ECP’s claim that it enjoyed powers to unilaterally announce the date or dates for general elections.
In a related development, caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi called on interim Interior Minister Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti and discussed with him the overall situation in the country, including matters related to general elections.
The two ministers agreed that full assistance will be provided to the ECP in meeting its constitutional obligation to conduct the polls.
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2023