EDITORIAL: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) seems not to care if it is seen to be catering to partisan interests rather than upholding the supreme law of the land, the Constitution of Pakistan, under which following the dissolution of a provincial assembly fresh elections must be called within 90 days.
After the legislatures in the two PTI-ruled provinces, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), were dissolved it would not announce elections schedule shifting that responsibility to the two provincial governors who kept refusing to cooperate on one pretext or another.
It was only when earlier this month, i.e., March 1, the Supreme Court ruled that elections to the two provincial assemblies should be held within the constitutionally stipulated timeframe of 90 days that polls were announced for April 30 in Punjab; and taking advantage of the court’s allowance for deviation by “the barest minimum,” in KP on May 28.
But in a sudden turnabout on late Wednesday evening, the ECP announced putting off the Punjab polls till October 8 when the National Assembly elections are also due.
In so doing it appeared to be conceding to the ruling PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) coalition’s demand that all elections should be held on the same date.
Citing the reasons for the delay, the electoral body said that during a meeting with intelligence and security officials it was informed that the Pakistan Army would not be available for polls-related duties because of the security situation, recommending that elections should not be held at the present time. To put it mildly, all this is a lot of guff.
It is for the police rather than the army to provide security at polling stations. As a matter of fact in the past, certain political parties now in government have been raising objections to soldiers conducting elections.
Besides, if safety is of real concern, what is the guarantee the conditions would be any better by October 8? In any event, letting the people choose their representatives to a legislature is the most important constitutional requirement.
Every affiliated organisation of the executive, whether it is the police or the Rangers or the finance ministry, is duty-bound to assist the ECP for holding timely free and fair elections, which is its only job.
Any digression at this point in time will set a bad precedent with implications for the future of the democratic process.
It might be used again and again if and when weak governments trot out such excuses to extend their tenures for indefinite durations. By postponing elections to the Punjab assembly on the say-so of agencies the ECP has damaged its own credibility.
Neither the ECP nor Parliament — unless it makes an amendment — can override the Constitution, which must prevail.
A lot has changed since the days the so-called ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ worked in somewhat similar situation.
The Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that any digression from the Constitution would be impermissible.
The issue will soon land before it. All eyes now are on this court of last resort, whose decisions and orders are binding on all.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023