Deciding poll date is ECP’s prerogative: PM Kakar

Published September 3, 2023
Interim Prime Minister speaks during an interview on Geo News programme ‘Jirga’ aired on Sunday. — Photo courtesy Geo News YouTube
Interim Prime Minister speaks during an interview on Geo News programme ‘Jirga’ aired on Sunday. — Photo courtesy Geo News YouTube

Interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar has said that as per the law, deciding the date for general elections was the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) prerogative.

The caretaker premier gave this statement during his first interview after assuming the top office on Geo News programme ‘Jirga’ — aired on Sunday — when asked about the ambiguity on whether the authority to decide and announce the poll date rested with the president or ECP.

The issue arose after President Dr Arif Alvi invited Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja last month for a meeting to “fix an appropriate date” for general elections.

This was after the ECP expressed its inability to hold elections within the constitutionally mandated period following the notification of the latest 2023 digital census, citing the need for fresh delimitation of constituencies under Section 17(2) of the Elections Act.

In his letter to the CEC, the president 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.

But a recent amendment to the Elections Act 2017 empowered the ECP to announce the dates for polls unilaterally without having to consult the president.

Citing this change to the law, the CEC responded to the president, saying that participating in a confab with him to decide the election date would be of “scant importance”.

Subsequently, the president sought the law ministry’s advice on the matter. And the ministry communicated to the president that the powers to announce the poll date rested with the ECP.

Kakar has the same position.

“The law of the land says that the Election Commission of Pakistan has to decide [the date],” the interim PM said during the Geo News interview.

However, he added, if the matter was taken to the superior judiciary where various constitutional experts give their interpretations of the law and the Constitution, the “legal consequence [of this process] will be binding on us”.

“But until such a judgement comes, we are compelled to operate as per the [existing] law.”

Asked whether the interim setup would abide by the superior judiciary’s decision if it concluded that elections were to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of assemblies, Kakar said: “No one should have any doubt about this.”

“Whatever the Supreme Court decides, it will be acceptable to us. It is for the judges to judge,” he asserted when asked about the courts deciding against polls being held after the 90-day period.

PM Kakar also assured that the caretaker setup term would not be extended unconstitutionally.

“We are an order of a constitutional continuation and will not stay [in government] even a moment beyond the period mandated under the Constitution and law.

“But this [time frame] will be decided by the law and it is linked to the announcement of polls’ schedule by the election commission,” he said.

Energy conservation

On the prospect of early closure of markets, the interim premier said steps would be implemented to conserve energy soon.

“You will soon see an execution plan on this,” he said, adding that the only factor barring the plan was that the Centre had yet to reach an agreement with provinces.

When asked about the recent increase in the power bills and the consequent mass protests, PM Kakar said the state was constrained by its commitments to multilateral international financial institutions which it had to follow through at any cost.

In this regard, he also highlighted issues in the country’s taxation and electricity production and distribution mechanisms.

Regarding his recent comments in which he seemed to be downplaying protests and the scale of the issue, the prime minister said the words “wheel, jam and strike” were attributed to him even when he did not use them. He clarified that he only disagreed with the analysis that the protest would lead to a civil war.

“Yes I think there is a social class which is under immense burden,” he said, adding that the entire situation was a multidimensional issue on which he and his cabinet had had multiple meetings.

The prime minister said his financial and power teams were looking into the “nitty gritty” of the issue to recommend short-term solutions in a manner so that the government did not have to roll them back later on.

The PM said some news may come soon on the matter.

Imran Khan and May 9

Asked about the incarceration of PTI Chairman Imran Khan and many of his party members, PM Kakar said if they were bearing the hardships of prison due to the political system and process then it would definitely be a “big question mark on our political and democratic process and system”.

To another question about whether the PTI “crossed limits” on May 9, he said the whole world and global media had seen what they did. “Did independent global media not have a view and assessment which converges with this [stance] that this kind of hooliganism is unacceptable?” he said.

He said the episode was “an attempt towards mutiny and civil war whose target and nucleus was the army chief, those around him and his team.”

The prime minister also agreed with the idea of holding military trials for those who attack military installations and personnel.

Surge in militancy

In response to a question about Pakistan’s policy failing with regard to terrorism and Afghanistan, the premier said the US leaving behind equipment of war in the war-torn country had a greater role in the recent surge in militancy than the Taliban coming to power in Kabul.

He also warned that this rise in terrorism would not be restricted to Pakistan but would spread throughout the region. “It has begun for us and the rest will have to wait for the time they face this onslaught.”

“The surge in terrorism is because their (militants) capacity to fight has enhanced, not because of our policy,” he said, adding that the consequences could have been different had the war inventory been handed over more responsibly.

Asked whether the caretaker setup would hold negotiations with Baloch militants, he said talks and applications of force were two tools that could be used by the state.

“I believe that both should be used, and they will have to be used,” PM Kakar added.

Ties with India

The interim premier also ruled out the possibility of restoration of trade and diplomatic ties with India without the resolution of the Kashmir issue.

“We don’t want war, we want the resolution in a peaceful manner. But if peace is denied a chance and the entire South Asia … is pushed into a situation where peace is absent, it would be worrisome for Pakistan, India and rest of the world,” he said.

Regarding India, the PM further said he wished for it to evolve from the world’s largest democracy to a “great democracy”.

“But this decision has to be taken by the Indian polity, consciousness, civil society and intelligentsia,” he said, adding that Pakistan would play a positive role in this.

“But if go on to become a part of a new strategic design because you are bigger in size or have an economic advantage, there will be difficulties,” the PM said.

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