PBC calls for president to fulfil constitutional responsibility, announce polls within 90-day period

Published September 5, 2023
Pakistan Bar Council Chairman Hassan Raza Pasha speaks to the media outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV
Pakistan Bar Council Chairman Hassan Raza Pasha speaks to the media outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV

A meeting called by the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) passed a resolution on Tuesday, urging President Arif Alvi to “fulfil your constitutional responsibility” and announce a date for general elections — which are to be pushed beyond the constitutionally mandated cutoff date of November 9 if the Election Commission of Pakistan sticks to its timeline for fresh delimitation of constituencies.

“The first resolution that we passed [at the meeting] was that the president of Pakistan should fulfil his constitutional responsibility and announce an election date as mandated under Article 48(5) of the Constitution.

“He does not need to consult or take advice from anyone on the matter, as he is competent to announce the election date under the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973,” said PBC Chairman Hassan Raza Pasha after the meeting while speaking to the media outside the Supreme Court (SC) in Islamabad.

The participants of the meeting — including chairmen and vice chairmen of the executive committees of bar councils of all four provinces and Islamabad, as well as the presidents of high court bar associations — also agreed to go on a countrywide strike on September 9 for the fulfilment of this demand, Pasha said.

“On September 9, lawyers will take out peaceful rallies, hold public meetings and wave black flags at all district and tehsil levels,” he said.

The PBC’s announcement comes as the president, ECP, political parties and other stakeholders take differing stances on the time frame for holding general elections and who has the authority to decide the final poll date.

The ECP has ruled out elections this year, while the 90-day limit for holding polls following the dissolution of the National Assembly (NA), as mandated under Article 224 of the Constitution, ends on November 9.

It reasons its decision to push elections beyond November 9 on the basis of the notification of results of the new digital 2023 census and Section 17(2) of the Elections Act, which states: “The commission shall delimit constituencies after every census is officially published.”

However, President Alvi invited Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja last month for a meeting to “fix an appropriate date” for general elections.

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 as the NA was dissolved prematurely on August 9.

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 Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) after he sought its advice on the matter.

A day ago, the president discussed matters pertaining to elections with caretaker Law Minister Ahmed Irfan Aslam and stressed the need to make decisions “in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution”.

Asserting the stance, Pasha said during the strike on September 9, “We will resolve that we are with the law and Constitution and that we will not compromise on the supremacy of the Constitution”.

After that, the Punjab Bar Council would arrange a convention in Lahore where a practical strategy would be devised, he added.

Call for end to privileges

Besides calling for the president to announce a date for holding elections, the PBC also demanded an end to the privileges being availed by top officials.

“The second resolution calls for the government to issue an administrative order and make an announcement within a week to end all the privileges … being provided to judges, generals and government officials from the national treasury,” Pasha said.

The lawyer called for the government to make the announcement before September 9.

He further demanded that “missing persons be presented before the court” and the implementation of the Lawyers Welfare and Protection Act, 2023 as per the law.

The PBC chairman said the lawyer’s body was also concerned about “illegal raids at lawyers’ houses and their families being harassed”.

“No lawyer can be pressured [into not] performing their professional duties. Their houses cannot be raided. They are fulfilling their duties as per law and Constitution, and no one has the right to include them in investigations and question them on the arguments they present in court,” Pasha said.

Moreover, he called for immediate hearings of references filed by bar councils against Supreme Court judges.

“We demand that Chief Justice-designate Qazi Faez Isa begin proceedings on these references soon after taking oath as the top judge.

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