US backs ‘fair, timely’ elections in Pakistan

Published September 14, 2023
In this file photo, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller addresses a press briefing in Washington on August 7. — Screenshot courtesy: US Dept of State website/File
In this file photo, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller addresses a press briefing in Washington on August 7. — Screenshot courtesy: US Dept of State website/File

Following President Arif Alvi’s letter to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) suggesting polls should be held no later than November 6, the US State Department has urged Pakistan to hold free, fair and timely elections in accordance with the law.

During a press briefing on Wednesday, US State Department Spokesperson Mathew Miller was asked to comment on Alvi’s letter to the ECP.

“As we do with countries around the world, we urge Pakistan to hold free, fair and timely elections, and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law,” Miller stated.

The US official also urged Pakistani authorities to “move forward with the electoral process in a manner consistent with Pakistan’s laws”.

Alvi’s missive 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 elections to the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

On Feb 20, the president had unilaterally announced April 9 as the date for elections for the two provincial assemblies. Later, he asked the ECP to hold polls in the 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.”

Pak-US ties

During the press briefing, the US State Department spokesperson was also asked Pak-US ties.

“Pakistan is an important partner, and we greatly value the relationship between our countries — both between our two governments and the people-to-people connections,” Miller said.

He was also asked about the Torkham border issues between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which started last week after a gun battle erupted between the two border forces.

“Obviously, we would encourage those two governments to work together to resolve that issue,” Miller said.

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