ISLAMABAD: In a controversial move, President Dr Arif Alvi Monday fixed April 9 as the date for elections to the Punjab and KP assemblies, hours after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) again decided against consulting him on the election dates.
In the exercise of powers conferred upon him under Section 57 (1) of the Elections Act, 2017, President Alvi said he was announcing Sunday, April 9 as the date for elections to the Punjab and KP assemblies.
He said the ECP was obliged under the law to announce the election schedule. In a letter written to Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, a copy of which is available with The News, the president said he had announced the date under Section 57 (1) of the Elections Act, 2017 and asked the electoral body to issue the election programme in accordance with Section 57 (2) of the Act.
Secretary ECP Omar Hamid Khan communicated to the president in writing, “In continuation of our two letters, dated February 18 and 19 and the facts clearly stated therein, the honourable Commission held a meeting at 9.30am Monday and decided that the subject matter being sub judice, the Commission cannot participate in a meeting on the subject matter with the office of the President”.
The president reiterated in the letter that he was under oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution under Article 42 read with 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 the Elections Act, empowering him to ‘announce the date or dates of the general elections after consultation with the Commission.
Therefore, he added, 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 ninety days.
The president further said the governors of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were not performing their constitutional duties for appointing a date, not later than ninety days from the date of dissolution of provincial assemblies as per the Constitution of Pakistan.
He added that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was also not fulfilling its constitutional obligation for holding polls for the assemblies of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
He contended, “Both the constitutional offices are placing the ball in each other’s court, similar to the old Urdu proverb ‘pehle aap, nahin pehle aap’ (you first, no you first) thus, resulting in delay and creating a serious danger that constitutional provisions may be violated”.
The president pointed out that the Election Commission 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.
He referred to his letter to the Chief Election Commissioner dated February 8 asking the Commission to immediately announce dates for the general elections to the two provincial assemblies and his subsequent letter inviting the CEC for a meeting for consultation on the election date.
The president said he had initiated a serious consultation process with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) under Section 57 (1) of the Elections Act, 2017 to announce the date for the general elections to the assemblies; however, the ECP replied that it could not participate in a meeting on the subject matter with the Office of the President.
Meanwhile, reacting to the development, sources said the president acted under the Constitution in most of the matters on the advice of the prime minister, and hence had no authority to issue directions to the constitutional bodies, including the Election Commission of Pakistan.
They made it clear that Section 57 of the Elections Act, being referred to the president, was related to the situation where the national and the provincial assemblies complete their terms together: in any case, any section of any law cannot supersede a constitutional provision.
Moreover, they said under Article 105 (3) of the Constitution, it was for the governor to appoint a date for the general election to a provincial assembly within ninety days of its dissolution.
They also explained that there was no delay on part of the Election Commission, having already proposed dates for the general elections in letters to the two governors asking them to appoint dates for the electoral exercise, and later had also sent them reminders.
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