ECP agrees to hold elections on Feb 8

Published November 3, 2023
A delegation from the Election Commission of Pakistan called on President Arif Alvi at the Aiwan-i-Sadr on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV
A delegation from the Election Commission of Pakistan called on President Arif Alvi at the Aiwan-i-Sadr on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV

• CEC Raja, ECP members meet President Alvi on SC orders, reach ‘unanimous’ decision
• CJP Isa warns deviation will entail ‘consequences’
• PTI, PPP lawyers have no objection to polls date

ISLAMABAD: After months of dilly-dallying on the issue of polls, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) agreed to hold general elections in the country on Feb 8 next year — a date “set in stone”.

The announcement by the ECP came after a meeting between Presi­dent Arif Alvi and Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, who visited the presidency with the ECP members, on the orders of the Supreme Court, which had taken up pleas regarding elections.

A separate announcement from the presidency also explained that on the orders of the Supreme Court, the CEC along with Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan and four ECP members came to meet the president to discuss the date for general elections. During the mee­t­ing, it was unanimously agreed that elections would be held on Feb 8.

 CHIEF Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja calls on President Dr Arif Alvi at Aiwan-i-Sadr, on Thursday.—White Star
CHIEF Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja calls on President Dr Arif Alvi at Aiwan-i-Sadr, on Thursday.—White Star

During the hearing in the apex court earlier in the day, the ECP had proposed Feb 11 as the date for polls but it was asked by the three-member bench to approach the president for consultations. Besides Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, other members of the bench are Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan and Justice Athar Minallah.

The ECP will formally inform the Supreme Court about the fresh development at the hearing of separate petitions — moved by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), the PTI, Munir Ahmad, and Ibad-ur-Rehman — to be held on Friday (today).

At the outset of the proceedings, the sombre mood inside Courtroom No. 1 turned uplifting after the ECP proposed Feb 11 as a date for general elections. However, the Supreme Court obligated the commission to immediately consult the president to complete the constitutional requirement under Article 48(4) and inform the bench on Friday.

“How strange is this case where no one turned out to be a loser,” observed a beaming CJP. “We have achieved the impossible,” he quipped.

“We expect the matter of appointing a date for holding the general elections shall be settled and this Court will be infor­med tomorrow i.e. Nov 3,” said a single-page order dictated by CJP Qazi Faez Isa.

Subsequently, the CEC wrote a letter to President Alvi, stating:

“…to comply with the directions of the apex court, the commission after due deliberation, hereby proposes for appointment of poll date on Feb 11, 2024, for general elections to the national and provincial elections.”

‘No objections’

Both PPP and PTI, represented through senior counsel Farooq H. Naek and Barrister Syed Ali Zafar, said they had no objections to the date since that was what the political parties wanted — an election date.

“Not the political parties alone but all citizens,” the CJP emphasised. He added that the Supreme Court should not go into practical things, but once the “date comes it must be considered as if carved in stone”.

Justice Isa said the court was only acting as a facilitator since it wanted to see institutions develop.

The moment Advocate Sajeel Shaharyar Swati on behalf of the ECP divulged the election date, CJP Isa asked whether the president had been taken on board regarding the date and then asked the counsel to consult the president right now. The court even took a break to provide the ECP with the opportunity to consult the president.

Justice Athar Minallah observed that by deciding about holding elections independently, the ECP was taking the entire onus upon itself.

The AGP, however, said he agreed with the stance taken by the election watchdog.

Caution against deviation

“Institutions do not develop if they do not do their assigned jobs,” the CJP observed, stressing that any deviation from the final date would “entail consequences”. “The court will not entertain any extension application,” the CJP said.

After the break, the ECP counsel informed the court that the commission was going to approach the president in the shortest possible time.

In its order, the court recalled that the ECP counsel had stated that the process of delimitation was underway, which would conclude on Nov 30 and publication of the final result of the delimitation would be posted by Dec 5.

“Thereafter the election programme is to be announced in terms of Section 57(2) of the Elections Act 2017 which provides certain timeframes and will conclude on Jan 29, 2024.”

The counsel further stated that to maximise public participation, general elections should ideally be held on a Sunday and the first Sunday after the timeframe would be Feb 4. But to enable the political parties to convey their respective programmes and manifestoes, it would be appropriate to hold the elections on Sunday, Feb 11, 2024.

Not only did the three-judge bench dictate the order but it also made the two-page order printed out inside the courtroom, vetted it, corrected errors, then signed it, and ordered the staff to certify the order right away to be delivered to the AGP.

In the meantime, the judges engaged in chit-chat with different lawyers. Justice Athar Minallah recalled how the designers of the city wanted to keep the Parliament House the tallest building on Constitution Avenue, but someone said the presidency should be the highest building.

The CJP highlighted one thing that was missing on Constitution Avenue i.e. the pavement. He pointed towards Senator Ali Zafar and jibed may be the senators don’t like to walk.

CJP Isa regretted that no one ever considered making public transport efficient in the capital city. “Maybe the city was designed for the elite when cities should be designed for stakeholders,” observed Justice Minallah.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2023

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