Tuesday July 16, 2024

CEC may not meet president for consultation on election date

ECP says CEC has called meeting today of commission to consult his members on this matter before taking official stand

By Umar Cheema
August 24, 2023
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja. — Radio Pakistan/File
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja. — Radio Pakistan/File 

ISLAMABAD: Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja may not meet President Dr Arif Alvi as desired by the latter for discussion to fix the date for the general elections. This is because deciding this matter is the sole discretion of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) after recent amendment to the law.

A well-placed source in the ECP told The News that the CEC has called a meeting today (Thursday) of the commission to consult his members on this matter before taking an official stand. There is no legal requirement of ECP to have such consultation with the President. “The law is very clear about it. President has cited the wrong article for this purpose.”

President Alvi has invited the CEC, Sikandar Sultan Raja, by invoking Article 48(5) of the Constitution. The relevant part of the article reads, “Where the President dissolves the National Assembly….he shall (a) appoint a date, not later than ninety days from the date of the dissolution for the holding of a general elections to the Assembly.”

In the matter under question, the assembly has not been dissolved by the President. Instead, it has been done on the advice of the prime minister following the completion of its term. The President can dissolve the assembly as per Article 58(2) in his discretion only when a vote of no-confidence is passed against a prime minister and no other member commands majority of the house. In that case, he can set a date for the election and appoint the caretaker cabinet for the interim period.

However, if the President dissolves the National Assembly in terms of Article 58(1) on the advice of the prime minister, he cannot unilaterally appoint a date for election nor can appoint a caretaker cabinet without adopting the procedure provided in Article 224-1 A. Moreover, the amendments to the election laws by the PDM government has stripped the presidential power for fixing the date.

Earlier, the President had to consult the ECP in terms of Section 57 of the Election Act before appointing a date for the election. This power has been taken away by the recent amendment. The Section 57(1) now reads, “The commission shall announce the date or dates of the general elections by notification in the official gazette and shall call upon the constituencies to elect their representatives.”

In the original constitution of 1973, the right to choose the date for elections was given to the ECP, which was taken away by the former military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq who granted this right to the office of the president. He had used this to delay elections after he prematurely dissolved the assembly on May 29, 1988. When pressed for giving the date to hold elections, he said he would do that within 90 days which were to end in August. Before that period expired, he died in a plane crash on August 17, 1988.