ECP awaits nod from ‘competent authority’ for polls

ISLAMABAD: A day after President Dr Arif Alvi unilaterally announced the date for general elections to Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) assemblies, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said it would announce poll schedule only after the ‘competent authority’ fixes date.

At a meeting chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, the commission said it has been taking, and will continue to take all decisions as per law and constitution without succumbing to any kind of pressure.

The meeting noted that the ECP remains ready to hold elections within ninety days, but stressed that the

constitution nowhere says the date for elections is to be appointed by the commission. It, however, said the commission was bound to announce schedule and hold elections after the ‘competent authority’ announces it.

In recent days, the ECP has taken a firm position that the president has no role in announcement of date for general elections to the provincial assemblies, it decided on Tuesday to consult the Attorney General for Pakistan and legal experts on the matter.

In a press release issued on Tuesday, the electoral watchdog said a meeting with the AGP and legal experts — the names of whom are still under discussion — has been called for Feb 22. In a move that was condemned by the government as “unconstitutional and illegal”, President Dr Arif Alvi had on Monday unilaterally fixed April 9 as the date for elections to the provincial assemblies of KP and Punjab.

The development had come hours after the ECP reaffirmed its decision not to consult President Alvi on dates for elections to the two provincial assemblies.

A senior ECP official, when contacted, said the president under the constitution acts in most of the matters on the advice of the prime minister and had no authority to issue directions to constitutional bodies such as the ECP.

Official says president can only act on PM’s advice, has ‘no authority to direct Election Commission’

The Section 57 of the Elections Act, 1997 being referred to president’s power was related to the situation where the national and the provincial assemblies complete their terms together, he said, adding that in any case, any section of any law cannot supersede a constitutional provision.

He said under Article 105(3) of the constitution, it is for the governor to appoint a date for general elections to a provincial assembly within ninety days of its dissolution. He said there was no delay on part of the ECP, which had 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.

The official said that Article 48 (5) says, “Where the President dissolves the National Assembly, notwithstanding anything contained in clause (1), he shall appoint a date, not later than ninety days from the date of the dissolution, for the holding of a general election to the assembly and appoint a caretaker cabinet.”

He said that Article 105 (3) allows governor to announce date in province if he had dissolved the provincial assembly. But the Punjab Assembly was not dissolved by the governor, after his refusal to dissolve the assembly, the provincial assembly got dissolved after 48 hours, he added. This particular matter related to the governor is sub-judice and the court would decide about it not the president, he insisted. Article 105(3) says, “Where the Governor dissolves the Provincial Assembly, notwithstanding anything contained in clause (1), he shall appoint a date, not later than ninety days from the date of dissolution, for the holding of a general election to the Assembly and (b) appoint a caretaker cabinet.”

The official said the ECP was of the considered opinion that the president’s move of fixing a date for the provincial assemblies was ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘illegal’, therefore, the ECP was not bound to act on it. He believed consultation with the attorney general and legal experts would only fortify the ECP’s position.

Published in Dawn, February 22th, 2023

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