A day after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) excused itself from holding consultations with President Arif Alvi on polls in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) for the time being, the head of state on Monday announced to hold elections in the two provinces on April 9 — the decision outrightly rejected by the ruling allies.
Under the Election Act 2027 Section 57(1), the president made the announcement.
According to a statement issued by the President’s Secretariat, President Alvi has asked the ECP to issue election programme in accordance with Section 57 (2) of the Act.
In his letter to Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja, the president said that he was under oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution under Article 42 read with the third schedule of the Constitution.
He wrote that there being no restraining order from any of the judicial fora, there was no impediment in invoking the power and authority vested in him under Section 57 (1) of Elections Act, 2017, empowering him to "announce the date or dates of the general elections after consultation with the Commission".
The president also added that he had felt it necessary to perform his constitutional and statutory duty to announce the date of elections to avoid the infringement and breach of the Constitution and law i.e., holding of elections not later than 90 days.
The president further said that the governors of Punjab and KP were not performing their constitutional duties for appointing a date, not later than 90 days from the date of dissolution of provincial assemblies as per the Constitution.
He added that the ECP was also not fulfilling its constitutional obligation for holding polls for the assemblies of Punjab and KP.
“Both the constitutional offices are placing the ball in each other's court, similar to the old Urdu proverb پہلے آپ، نہیں، پہلے آپ, thus, resulting in delay and creating a serious danger that constitutional provisions may be violated.”
He pointed out that the election watchdog had already indicated the possible dates of elections in its various communications to the constitutional functionaries showing its own responsibility of holding the elections within ninety days.
The president further said that he had initiated a serious consultation process with the ECP under Section 57 (1) of the Elections Act, 2017 to announce the date for the general elections of the aforementioned assemblies, however, the ECP replied that the commission could not participate in a meeting on the subject matter with the Office of the president.
Commenting on President Alvi’s decision, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif — during his speech on the floor of the National Assembly later today — said the president is “exceeding his limits”, adding that Alvi is doing so on the behest of his leader Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan.
“The president is working as a worker of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. He does not have the authority to issue the election date. His action is tantamount to violating the Constitution,” the minister said while addressing the NA session chaired by Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.
He also questioned the president’s role in issuing a date for the provincial assemblies. “The president does not respect his position. The responsibilities of all officials are clear in the Constitution. What role does the president have in provincial polls?”
Asif, who is also a senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), added that Dr Alvi is violating the Constitution by issuing a date for polls.
“The president should abide by the Constitution. Today, it is being violated,” he said reiterating his stance on the decision taken by the head of state.
Speaking about the president not adhering to his position’s sanctity, the defence minister spoke about Dr Alvi insulting the President’s Office. “The Constitution prescribes punishment for such acts.”
Moreover, PML-N senior leader Talal Chaudhary, while speaking to Geo News said: “Election cannot — and will not — be held on the President’s directives.”
Slamming the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan for trying to “become the president of the country”, he said that the real president should be mindful of his role.
Chaudhary further said that as per the constitution, the president was not empowered to set the date of the election.
“He should refrain from making a joke of the office of the president, and the country.” He said.
The former minister of state for interior also said that Pakistan needed elections that will fulfil the needs of the country and not those that will fulfil Imran Khan’s wishes.
“There is a proper procedure for holding elections in the Constitution,” he said, adding that President Alvi was using his position “to make the elections controversial”.
On being asked whether the PML-N intended to take the matter to court, the PML-N leader said that it was pointless to do so given that the decision held no value to begin with.
He further clarified that the issue was not that the PML-N was scared of elections, saying “we were not even scared of a martial law,” but that the elections could not be held according to Khan’s whims.
“We have already started preparing for the election,” he said, “Maryam Nawaz is going to every district, holding meetings and conventions. We are prepared for them.”
On being asked whether it was possible that the elections would be held as decreed by the president, Chaudhry vehemently denied the possibility and said that the ECP would fulfil its responsibilities.
He further said that since the president seemed to be playing the role of Khan lackey, he had already taken the first step to making the elections controversial.
Reacting to the political development, Federal Minister for Planning and Development and senior PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal said that "it is the prerogative of the ECP" to announce a date for the elections. He was of the view that the president should not have announced the date.
Referring to the economic crisis being faced by the country, the minister said that one to two years are required to steer Pakistan out of the difficulties.
He went on to say that the coalition government was taking all-out measures to put the country on the right track. He said that special steps are being taken to improve exports.
Pakistan Peoples Party — an ally of the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) — senior leader and former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani said that the president was not empowered to take the decision.
During a press conference, Federal Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb slammed the PTI chief for making a spectacle in the country, saying: “That person has been summoned by every court in the country, yet he never shows up.”
She denounced Khan and called him a “criminal” for refusing to show up in courts and consistently demanding delays and extensions on whimsical excuses, adding that the case for which Khan had been summoned by the court to verify his fake signature on documents pertaining to his pre-arrest bail.
“Instead, he storms the court with 200-300 men and asks his people to attack the court. Why does this man get special treatment and why has he not been arrested yet?”
She demanded to know why this special treatment was meted out to the PTI chief, adding that when PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif was called to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court, the sitting ministers were stopped outside.
“He was given no extensions and postponements even when his wife was critically ill. He came before every court that summoned him.”
Calling Khan a “goon” and a “thug”, Aurangzeb said that Khan threatened and abused a woman judge when she summoned him to the court.
She also condemned Khan for “turning the presidential office into an office for the PTI,” adding that Khan was treating the Presidential office as his “puppet.”
Reiterating why “relief is being given to someone who does not obey the court,” the info minister said that Khan had made ministers and the president violate the Constitution. “Imran Khan has made the judicial system a joke, and he must be brought under the ambit of the law.”
According to legal experts, the date should be given by the governor, and actual arrangements should be done by ECP. However, the governor can only set the date when he signs the dissolution paper. In KP, the governor signed the paper, but not in Punjab. Therefore the matter remains disputed.
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