- President says Article 48(5) of the Constitution empowers him to appoint a date not later than ninety days from the date of the dissolution
President Dr Arif Alvi has proposed November 6 as the date for elections in a letter to Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja on Wednesday.
He said in the letter that the National Assembly was dissolved on August 9 on the advice of the prime minister.
The president cited Article 48(5) of the Constitution as giving him the authority and mandate to “designate a date not later than ninety days from the date of the dissolution, for the holding of a general election to the Assembly.”
Accordingly, “in terms of Article 48(5), the general election to the National Assembly should be held by the 89th day of the date of dissolution of the National Assembly, i.e. Monday, 6th day of November 2023”, the letter read.
In the letter, the president noted that “the chief election commissioner was invited to a meeting to devise the modalities of implementing the constitutional intent and mandate” in order to “fulfill the constitutional obligations.”
But in his reply, the CEC “took a contrary view that as per the scheme of the Constitution and framework of electoral laws, it was the domain of the election commission, and following the publication of last preceding census on August 7, duly notified delimitation of constituencies was in progress, a mandatory requirement stipulated by Article 51(5) of the Constitution and section 17 of the Elections Act, 2017”, the letter said.
The president advised the ECP to “consult with provincial governments and political parties under the relevant provisions of the Constitution and in view that some of these matters are already subjudice, may seek guidance from the Supreme Court.”
The president acknowledged that it was the ECP’s responsibility to adhere to all the constitutional and legal steps stipulated under Articles 51, 218, 219, and 220 and the Elections Act, 2017 for organizing and conducting free and fair elections.
The letter continued, “Furthermore, there is consensus that general elections to the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies must be held on the same day in order to strengthen the federation, to promote unity and harmony among the provinces, and to avoid incurring unnecessary expenses.”
The development comes a day after President Alvi met with caretaker Law Minister Ahmed Irfan Aslam to discuss upcoming general elections.
During this month, the president and law minister have met three times to discuss the elections.
At an earlier meeting with the law minister, President Arif Alvi stressed the need to make decisions in accordance with “the spirit of the Constitution.”
The President’s letter to the CEC comes after institutional stakeholders failed to reach a consensus on an election date.
In an earlier letter to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), the president requested a meeting to “fix an appropriate date” for general elections.
Sikandar Sultan Raja, the CEC, declined President Alvi’s request for a date for elections in his response. He claimed that the ECP alone is responsible for choosing the date of the general elections.
Last week, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said that deciding the date for general elections was the ECP prerogative.
The president’s decision to unilaterally propose the election date could lead to complications because the outgoing government altered the Election Act to give the ECP exclusive authority to announce the date of the elections.
Delay in general elections
General elections in Pakistan, due to take place this year, are feared to be delayed by many months, after the ECP announced the launching of fresh delimitation of constituencies in accordance with the results of the digital population census 2023.
The Council of Common Interests (CCI) under the outgoing government approved the first-ever digital Population and Housing Census 2023. A meeting of the CCI was convened by then Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to decide on the fate of the census in 2023 amid reports of divisions among coalition partners.
The approval aroused fears of an inevitable delay in elections as ECP will be required some time to re-do the delimitation exercise.
It is pertinent to mention that elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are already witnessing inordinate delay – keeping in view that both the provincial legislatures were dissolved in January this year and respective caretaker governments have since been running the affairs of the two provinces.