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Friday April 12, 2024

A presidential twist

By Editorial Board
February 21, 2023

In a new twist to the election saga, now President Arif Alvi has entered the fray too – and announced April 9 as the date for holding elections in both Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Apparently, the chief election commissioner was summoned by the president to hold consultations on the date(s) of the polls in Punjab and KP but the ECP excused itself, saying the matter was “subjudice at various judicial fora”, among other reasons. The president – claiming to exercise his power under Section 57 (1) of the Elections Act, 2017 – has now asked the electoral body to issue an election programme in accordance with Section 57 (2) of the Act.

Naturally, Alvi’s proactive measures have elicited varying views from legal and constitutional experts. But on one thing there is little debate: most are agreed that under Article 105 of the constitution, the governors of both provinces have to announce an election date within 90 days of dissolution of an assembly. That the governors have not announced an election date has led to the current predicament. Are they essentially running away from their constitutional duties? Most legal experts would reply in the affirmative. There is somewhat of a difference in opinion among some constitutional experts on whether Section 57 allows the president to give dates for provincial elections. Then there’s the matter of the law explicitly saying he needs to first consult with the ECP before announcing any date.

While the legal arguments can be debated, on the larger principle of elections being held on time perhaps the sitting government too needs to pause and just realise that this delay is not helping politics or democracy. While the president’s intentions may be partisan – he has hardly veiled his political affiliation – the need for the elections to take place in 90 days is something no political party or government or institution can deny. To avoid this drama, the governors should have done their constitutional duty and the ECP that has already suggested dates to them would have held elections on time. Now there is not just confusion but it seems that the matter will once again be taken to the courts. It would be prudent for all political stakeholders to avoid the judiciary taking decisions on their behalf by following the constitution in letter and spirit. Whether the elections take place on April 9 or not isn’t the issue here, the real issue is sticking to constitutionally-mandated timelines and not making a mockery of the democratic system.