Ministry adamant poll date not in Alvi’s purview

Published September 12, 2023
President Dr Arif Alvi holds a meeting with caretaker Law Minister Ahmed Irfan Aslam in Islamabad on Monday. — PID
President Dr Arif Alvi holds a meeting with caretaker Law Minister Ahmed Irfan Aslam in Islamabad on Monday. — PID

• President holds another meeting with law minister on election process
• PTI urges head of state to announce poll date as per his mandate

ISLAMABAD: As a deg­ree of uncertainty prevails regarding the timing of the next general elections, President Arif Alvi on Monday continued efforts to convince the caretaker set-up to expedite the process, only to be informed once again that it was the prerogative of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to set a date for the electoral exercise.

This was the second meeting between the president and interim Law Min­ister Ahmed Irfan Aslam over the past month on the same issue. The min­istry informed the president that fixing the date for elections was the sole prerogative of the ECP.

The consultation coincided with a letter from the PTI to the president urging him to announce the date for elections within 90 days.

The president’s decision to meet the law ministry officials on the issue of polls, especially when the government had already told him that the ECP was the sole authority with regard to elections, could be seen as an attempt to soothe his party’s nerves which has been ratcheting up pressure on him for elections.

The fresh letter penned by PTI Secretary General Omar Ayub said it was the “constitutional obligation and mandate of the president” to announce elections.

No unilateral announcement

Prior to the meeting, reports claimed that the president would unilaterally announce the election date soon and that the meeting with the law minister was meant to discuss arrangements and relevant processes for polls.

However, this was denied by the Presidency in a statement, which said the meeting was the continuation of the ongoing consultation process on elections between the president and the interim government.

“The continuation of the consultation process with good intent will be positive for democracy in the country,” the president was quoted as saying in a statement posted on social media platform X (formerly Twitter).

A senior official at the President’s House said the president had not expressed his intentions to announce the poll date. Sources in the law ministry said the law minister apprised the president once again that only the Election Commission of Pakistan could announce the date after changes to the election law.

Delimitation process

In the last meeting with the law minister, Mr Alvi had emphasised the need to hold elections within 90 days of the National Assembly’s dissolution.

According to Article 224 of the Constitution, elections must be held within 90 days after the dissolution of the National Assembly. This makes the general election due in November.

The ECP also ruled out elections this year due to the fresh delimitation exercise on the basis of the digital census 2023. Since the delimitation exercise is unlikely to be completed before Nov 30, elections may be pushed back to late January or early February.

Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob told Dawn that the changes to the Election Act 2017 gave the right to announce the date of election to the ECP, not the president.

He said if, under Article 48 (5) of the Constitution, the right of the president to announce polls is accepted even then he could not act on his own but on the advice of the prime minister.

President Alvi had invited Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja last month for a meeting to “fix an appropriate date” for general elections but the latter refused.

In his letter to the CEC, the president had quoted Article 244 of the Constitution, saying he was duty-bound to get the elections conducted in 90 days. The CEC had 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, and the ministry communicated to the president that the powers to announce the poll date rested with the ECP.

‘Constitutional obligation’

The PTI urged President Alvi to announce the election date, saying the Constitution obliged him to fix the date of the elections.

In a letter to the president, PTI leader Omar Ayub said that under Article 48(5) of the Constitution, when the president dissolved the National Assembly, he was to appoint a date not later than 90 days from the date of dissolution for the holding of general elections.

“This article has also been interpreted in two judgements of the Supreme Court of Pakistan namely Mohammad Sibtain Khan and others Vs. Election Commission of Pakistan and suo motu regarding holding of general elections to the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” he added.

Mr Omar recalled, “Since the NA was dissolved by yourself on August 9, 2023, on the advice of the prime minister, the date for the holding of general elections has to be given by you in accordance with the Constitution and the law as well as the judgements of the SC.”

“We may mention here that under Section 57 of the Elections Act, 2017, [the] ECP has been given the right to appoint the date for elections but the section itself states that this is subject to the Constitution. As you are well aware, in any case, it is an established principle that no law can override the Constitution,” he argued.

‘Polls in 90 days’

On the other hand, the PPP and the Pakistan Bar Council demanded polls within 90 days as specified in the Constitution.

Separately, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) reiterated that Mr Alvi had no right to announce the date.

The PML-N deputy secretary general, Attaullah Tarar, told a presser that the president did not have the right to announce the election date after the completion of his five-year term. He said that as an interim president following the completion of his term, Mr Alvi could not give the poll date, saying it would be illegal to do so.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2023

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