• Elections should be held by 89th day of NA dissolution; Alvi tells ECP to seek guidance from superior judiciary
• PM Kakar hints at election in Jan; experts term president’s letter ‘tactical move’ to appease PTI

ISLAMABAD: In a move that has further clouded the air around general elections, Presi­dent Dr Arif Alvi wrote to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday, suggesting polls should be held across the country no later than November 6, the 89th day since the dissolution of the National Assembly.

This was the fourth such letter written by the president to Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja regarding elections in the country. In previous letters, the president had suggested dates for the elections for the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

On Feb 20, the president had unilaterally announced April 9 as the date for the general elections for the Punjab and KP assemblies. Later, he asked the ECP to hold polls in two provinces on any date between April 30 and May 7. The Punjab and KP assemblies were dissolved on Jan 14 and Jan 19, respectively.

Political experts termed the president’s latest move “uncalled for”, as they were of the view that by writing to the CEC, he had created an ambiguity as the president has not given a “clear-cut date for the polls and he has only asked the ECP that the polls should not go beyond Nov 6”.

The president cited Article 48(5) of the Constitution which, according to him, empowered and mandated him to fix a date not later than 90 days from the date of the dissolution for the holding of a general election to the Assembly.

Hence, “in terms of Article 48(5), the general election to the National Assembly should be held by the 89th day of the date of dissolution of the National Assembly, i.e. Monday, 6th day of November 2023”, read the fresh letter.

The president recalled that in an endeavour to fulfil the constitutional obligations, he had invited the CEC for a meeting. The CEC did not meet the president and took a contrary view that as per Article 51(5) of the Constitution and framework of electoral laws, it was the domain of the ECP to decide the election date. The law ministry had also expressed the same view on the matter and in reply to the president’s query, it had reiterated that all four provincial governments were of the opinion that the announcement of the election date was the ECP’s mandate.

The president said, “Further, there is a consensus that to strengthen the federation and to promote unity and harmony amongst provinces and to avoid incurring unnecessary expenses, general elections to the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies must be held on the same day.”

Acknowledging that it was the ECP’s responsibility to abide by all the constitutional and legal steps stipulated under articles 51, 218, 219, 220 and the Elections Act 2017 for organising and conducting free and fair elections, the president advised that the ECP, in “consultation with provincial governments and political parties under the relevant provisions of the Constitution and in view that some of these matters are already sub judice, may seek guidance from the superior judiciary for announcement of a single date for general election to the national and provincial assemblies.”

‘Tactical move’

Talking to Dawn, Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said the president had made a “tactical move” by not clearly announcing the date of elections but proposed Nov 6, just to appease his party, PTI.

He was of the view that there was no need for such a letter because Dr Alvi has no power to announce the date for the polls. “The president’s letter was unclear and confusing,” he added. He said the president’s suggestion was also out of the context that the ECP, political parties and provincial government should seek guidance from the Supreme Court for holding elections of the National Assembly and provincial assemblies on the same day.

“Holding polls on the same day is out of the question and, therefore, the president’s suggestion is irrelevant,” he added.

Mr Mehboob said President Alvi had “tarnished the respect and image” of his office by writing the letter, adding that the matter regarding the election was already in the apex court.

Meanwhile, the PTI core committee lauded the president for “exercising his constitutional powers by referring the matter of fixing the election date” to the top court. The core committee noted the president of the state had fulfilled his constitutional duty under Article 48(5) regarding the date of elections. The committee said the president had referred the matter to the apex court and the entire nation’s eyes were now on the SC.

On the other hand, interim PM Anw­aarul Haq Kakar said on Wed­n­esday that the “prime mandate” for giving the election date rested with the ECP. He, however, hoped that if the delimitation process remained smooth then polls could be held by the end of January next year.

“The president has suggested a date. They (ECP) will do their due diligence and deliberations on it and the required conditions to conduct free and fair polls. I think the ECP will soon announce [the date] after coming to a conclusion on what will be the appropriate day and date [for elections].”

Senate panel briefing

Meanwhile, the ECP is scheduled to brief a Senate panel on preparations for the upcoming general polls on Sept 26. Sources told Dawn that ECP Secretary Omar Hamid Khan has been invited to brief the Senate Standing Committee on Parlia­me­ntary Affairs, which will meet here with Senator Taj Haider in the chair.

The Senate panel chairman was among the PPP delegation members who attended a consultative session with the ECP on the roadmap to elections. They urged the ECP to immediately announce the schedule

“When they know when the delimitation exercise will be completed, why do they not announce the poll schedule to end uncertainty?” a member of the committee said while talking to Dawn.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2023

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