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EDITORIAL: The Lahore High Court in its order that it announced late Friday evening has put to rest, at least for the time being in case the government decides to challenge it, the controversy surrounding the timing of the elections to the Punjab and the KPK assemblies that have been dissolved by the then chief ministers of the two provinces before completion of their five-year term.

Even when the 18th Constitutional Amendment extensively dealt with the Constitution it did not touch Clause 2 of Article 224, which mandates that general election to an assembly, be it National or Provincial, “shall be held within a period of ninety days after the dissolution”.

And this had been unreservedly conveyed to the Election Commission of Pakistan by President Arif Alvi, in line with the position taken by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, as against the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government’s public stance that given security and economic challenges the country faces the provincial elections to the dissolved assemblies be put off for the time being. The PDM leaders, as well as the caretaker chief ministers, want that the provincial assemblies’ and National Assembly’s elections should be held simultaneous.

That such a postponement was the ruling federal coalition’s mindset from day one is a fact about which not much is in doubt. As the Punjab governor did not “announce” the date for elections his Khyber Pakhtunkhwa counterpart cited fragile security situation in the province as prohibiting factor for holding of elections within 90 days. And the call by the PDM leadership for postponement of provincial assemblies’ elections is getting louder by the day.

PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) leader Khawaja Saad Rafique says the general elections should be held across the country at the same time because country’s precarious financial situation does not allow elections on two different dates — only to be endorsed by the PM’s Special Assistants Malik Ahmad Khan and Attaullah Tarar.

To circumvent the constitutional stipulation, the PDM takes refuge under Article 254, which tends to lend credence to the PDM’s stance by saying when any act or thing to be done within specified constitutional limitations is not done accordingly “it shall not be invalid or otherwise ineffective by reason only that it was not done within that period”. And that kind of posturing is an internationally recognised reality.

According to International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, at least 56 countries delayed national and regional elections due to coronavirus pandemic. But that is not the case with Pakistan. There is neither the prevalence of coronavirus nor any natural calamity which should justify postponement of provincial assemblies’ elections.

If there could be polls for local bodies in Sindh as scheduled by the ECP and there is willingness on the part of the PDM to contest National Assembly by-elections, why then this reluctance to have provincial assemblies’ elections as dictated by the Constitution.

Realities on the ground don’t exhibit any tangible sign suggesting that the government is at the threshold of meaningful recovery of economy to help refurbish its image, nor is there a guarantee that the anti-Pakistan forces would lay down their arms anytime soon. Maybe, to some there is a bit of legality to the PDM stance as the Punjab governor only announced but did not give date for elections. But that is not a defendable legality.

Little does the government recognise the fact that to the man in the street its reluctance for timely provincial elections stems from its reckoning that it has miserably failed on all fronts, letting loose the demons of rising inflation and joblessness.

Anyhow, now that the Lahore High Court has held that the constitution unequivocally mandates that the elections to the two dissolved assemblies have to be held within 90 days of their dissolution, it is hoped that the ECP and the caretaker government would move in earnest towards fulfilling their constitutional obligation.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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