Legal necessity of elections

May 28, 2023

Caretaker governments are meant to hold fair and free elections in a transparent manner

Legal necessity of elections


lections are a fundamental pillar of democratic governance, ensuring citizen participation and representation in shaping the destiny of their nation. The legal necessity of elections is crucial to uphold democratic principles, promote political stability and ensure accountability. Additionally, the role of the Supreme Court is essential in safeguarding the rule of law and maintaining the integrity of the electoral process. The constitution serves as the supreme law of the land, enshrining the principles of democracy, fundamental rights and the sovereignty of the people. Article 218 of the constitution explicitly mandates the holding of general elections for the National Assembly, provincial assemblies and local governments within a specified timeframe.

The Representation of the People Act, 1976, supplemented by various amendments, establishes the legal framework for general elections. Elections enable citizens to exercise their right to vote and actively participate in selecting their representatives. This democratic process provides legitimacy to the government and empowers elected officials to make decisions on behalf of the people. Moreover, elections serve as a platform for citizens to choose representatives who align with their aspirations, concerns and interests. Elected officials are accountable to the electorate, as their authority stems from the vote. Regular elections ensure that the representatives stay connected to their constituents and prioritise their best interests.

A caretaker government’s decision to delay elections beyond the constitutionally mandated time frame is an apparent violation of constitutional provisions. Such action not only undermines the integrity of the legal framework but also erodes public trust in the democratic process. Such a delay has the potential to trigger a constitutional crisis, as it deprives the government of legitimacy.

When a caretaker government delays elections, concerns arise regarding the legitimacy of the government. This perception of an undemocratic or illegitimate government can result in political unrest and social instability. The absence of a popular mandate weakens the government’s capacity to implement policies and make crucial decisions. Moreover, it erodes public trust in both the democratic system and the caretaker government. Citizens may become disillusioned, leading to a decline in confidence in the electoral process and political institutions.

The political crisis in the country is worsening as election authorities have postponed the polls for a provincial legislature. This has the potential to plunge the nation into a constitutional crisis. The Supreme Court, in its interpretation of Article 224(2), has emphasised that holding general elections within 90 days is a constitutional obligation. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is obligated to organise elections within this timeframe after a dissolution of assemblies, as explicitly stated in the constitution. Any delay exceeding 90 days, regardless of the reason, constitutes a violation of the constitution.

The final authority in resolving election-related disputes is the Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court has a crucial role in interpreting the constitution and upholding the rule of law. It exercises the power of judicial review, enabling it to assess the constitutionality of laws, executive actions and electoral processes. The oversight ensures that elections are conducted in a fair and transparent manner, thereby safeguarding the democratic process.

The final authority in resolving election-related disputes is the Supreme Court. It possesses the jurisdiction to hear cases challenging the validity of elections, including allegations of fraud, misconduct or violations of electoral laws. The court’s decisions contribute to maintaining the integrity of the electoral process and providing legal remedies to aggrieved parties. Moreover, the court provides guidance on the interpretation of election laws, ensuring consistency and uniformity in their application. This interpretation clarifies legal provisions and resolves ambiguities, establishing a clear framework for the conduct of elections.

In the current situation, the imperative of holding elections carries immense significance. Upholding democratic principles, ensuring political stability, preserving social cohesion and safeguarding the legal and constitutional framework all require timely elections. Holding elections is not only a legal obligation but also an essential prerequisite for a vibrant and flourishing democracy.

Firstly, elections uphold democratic principles by enabling citizens to exercise their right to vote and actively participate in the decision-making process. At the core of democracy lies the concept of popular sovereignty. Elections are a vehicle for citizens to express their preferences and contribute to the trajectory of their nation. Through the electoral process, representatives are selected and a system of accountability is established, ensuring that the government remains responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people.

Secondly, elections play a crucial role in fostering political stability by facilitating a seamless transition of power. Regular elections establish a predictable mechanism for the transfer of authority from one government to another, reducing potential disruptions and promoting continuity in the political system. This stability is vital for fostering investor confidence, driving economic growth, and advancing the overall development of the nation.

From a legal and constitutional standpoint, the necessity of elections is firmly enshrined in the constitution. Adherence to this constitutional mandate ensures the rule of law, protection of citizens’ rights and freedoms. Moreover, it serves to enhance the credibility and legitimacy of the government, establishing a solid foundation for democratic governance.

The legal imperative of conducting elections in the present scenario is crucial for upholding democratic principles, ensuring political stability, fostering social cohesion, maintaining the legal and constitutional framework and promoting public trust and confidence. Only by fulfilling this legal obligation, Pakistan can bolster its democratic institutions, reinforce the values of a flourishing democracy and lay the foundation for a prosperous and inclusive future.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court and a PhD scholar

Legal necessity of elections