ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Saturday expressed displeasure over President Dr Arif Alvi’s letter written a day earlier regarding an “urgent meeting” for the consultations over the date of the election.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, in a letter written to the president, said that the electoral body expects “parental guidance” from the office of the president — which is the highest constitutional body — towards other constitutional bodies. “We […] expect that there will be a better choice of words while addressing such other constitutional institutions,” he wrote.
A day earlier, President Alvi summoned the election commissioner for an "urgent meeting' on February 20 (Monday) for consultation regarding the date of the poll as he lambasted him over ECP’s “poignant approach” regarding the general elections date.
In his letter to the president, CEC Raja said: "I would like to draw your kind attention to the constitutional obligations of the Election Commission of Pakistan under the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Elections Act, 2017."
The letter said that was the constitutional duty of the election commission to organise and conduct elections under Article 218(3) of the Constitution.
Raja mentioned that the commission was fully cognisant of its constitutional obligations to organise and conduct the election and has taken all necessary steps in this regard.
With reference to the first two paragraphs of the president's letter, the CEC said the commission was trying its "level best" to fulfil its constitutional duties "without any pressure or fear".
He said that the ECP had approached the governors of both provinces — Punjab's Baligh Ur Rehman and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Shah Farman — for setting a date for provincial elections on January 24.
The commission also claimed that it had issued reminders to both governors on January 29.
“It will not be out of place to mention here that the role of the president and the governor of a province is clearly mentioned in Article 48(5) and 105(3) of the Constitution respectively,” he wrote, adding that the Constitution does not empower the commission to fix a date for a general election to an assembly in case of dissolution.
Raja explained to the president that the commission is mandated to organise and conduct the election to the Senate of Pakistan, by-elections of the assemblies under Section 102 and the Senate without any consultation.
“In this regard, it has fulfilled its obligations as so many by-elections to the Senate, National Assembly and provincial assemblies have been held well within time and the commission did not hesitate to announce the date of such elections,” he said, sharing the example of immediate announcement of schedule of elections on seats of National Assembly from where MNAs have resigned.
He further added that had the framers of the Constitution the intention to confer powers on the Commission to announce the poll date in case of dissolution of an assembly, it would have clearly mentioned the same in Articles 48, 58, 105 or 112 of the Constitution.
“At the same time the Elections Act, 2017 also does not confer powers on the commission to announce a poll date except in Senate elections and all by-elections,” he emphasised.
The CEC explained that following the petition filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and three other petitioners in the Lahore High Court (LHC), the court had directed the ECP to hold a consultative meeting with Punjab's governor and fix a date for the poll.
However, in the meeting conducted on February 14, at the Governor House in Lahore, “the Punjab governor regretted to announce the poll date and informed the ECP that he intends to approach the legal forum.”
After the meeting with the governor, the ECP decided to file a Civil Miscellaneous Application in the LHC seeking further guidance on the matter, but the office of the registrar objected to the application on the grounds that the matter stands decided and the application was not “maintainable.”
“The commission has also challenged the judgment of the Lahore High Court on the ground that the Constitution and law do not provide any consultation by the commission with the Governor,” the letter elaborated.
The letter concluded that the ECP was looking forward to “parental guidance” from the “prestigious” office of the president adding that the commission had “utmost respect for the President's office.”
However, the statement took issue with some of the content from the president’s letter yesterday, requesting that the commission hoped that “there will be a better choice of words while addressing such other constitutional institutions.”
In the letter issued yesterday, President Alvi had claimed that he had "waited anxiously" for the commission to realise its constitutional duties to proceed and act accordingly, but he was extremely dismayed by ECP’s poignant approach to the crucial matter of appointing a date for provincial and general elections.
Expressing his displeasure at the “indifference” of the ECP towards the issue, he chastised the CEC for being lax and taking no steps to set the date.
Especially as “some substantial developments” had taken place, he said referring to the judgment of the Lahore High Court (LHC) to ensure that polls in Punjab are held within 90 days and recent observations of the Supreme Court (SC) instructing that the LHC’s orders be implemented.
Asserting that he was "conscious of his constitutional responsibility of preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution," the president invited the CEC for an urgent meeting on February 20 to his office.
It must be noted that on February 8, President Alvi had written to the ECP, urging the body to ensure that both provincial and national general elections are held within the constitutionally mandated time.
It is pertinent to mention here that the Punjab and KP assemblies were dissolved by the Imran Khan-led PTI on January 14 and January 18, respectively.
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