PESHAWAR: The Election Commission of Pakistan on Tuesday informed the Peshawar High Court that under the law, the schedule of general elections was to be declared at least 54 days ahead of the Feb 8 polling day, so it still had many days to do so.

The court directed it to produce the election schedule after its formal announcement.

The directions were issued by a bench consisting of Justice Abdul Shakoor and Justice Syed Arshad Ali during the hearing into a petition filed a few months ago against the delimitation of the countrywide constituencies by the ECP as well as its “steps to delay” general elections.

The petition was filed by lawyer Naeem Ahmad Khattak in August challenging the ECP notification for delimiting constituencies and seeking orders for protecting the election period specified by Article 224 of the Constitution.

PHC hears petition against delimitation, ‘steps to delay’ general elections

The petitioner later filed an application in the main petition seeking the court’s orders for the ECP to announce election schedule.

He also called for contempt proceedings under Article 204 of the Constitution against Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and four members of the commission for ‘violating’ the April 4 Supreme Court orders for conducting elections in Punjab on May 14, 2023.

Advocate Ali Azim Afridi appeared for the petitioner and insisted that the people at the helm of affairs, including the respondents, were responsible for organising and conducting elections honestly, fairly and in accordance with the law but they had been taking measures to delay them.

He said the National assembly was dissolved on Aug 10, 2023, and under the Constitution polls should have been held within 90 days of its dissolution.

The lawyer said that the ECP, by issuing a notification and a news release on Aug 17, had choreographed a systematic plan with systemic overtones allowing a delay in the holding of elections in the country at the cost of dispensing with mandatory constitutional provisions.

He contended that in the news release, based on the impugned notification, the respondents “shadowed legal obligation over constitutional dispensation.”

Mr Afridi contended that the ECP’s impugned notification was uncalled-for as well as against the Constitution and the law.

He contended that the notification “offended” and impinged on the Constitution’s provisions guaranteeing people’s fundamental rights. The lawyer said the holding of elections on time was a constitutionally-embedded right.

He pointed out that the ECP had now announced Feb 8 as polling day but had so far not issued the schedule.

Lawyer for the ECP Mohsin Kamran Siddique contended that the petition had become infructuous as the petitioner challenged the delimitation process, which had already been completed.

He said that the commission had declared Feb 8 as the polling day and under the Elections Act, 2017, it still had many days to announce the election schedule.

Mr Kamran said once that schedule was issued, it would be known to all.

The petitioner’s counsel said it was a constitutional requirement for the ECP to declare the election schedule.

Mr Afridi contended that when the law required a thing to be done in a particular manner, it should happen that way as anything done in conflict with the command of law would be prohibited for being unlawful. He insisted that the ECP had no powers under the Constitution to delay the issuance of an election schedule.

The respondents in the petition are the ECP through its secretary, the CEC, four ECP members, and secretary of the Supreme Judicial Council.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2023

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