EDITORIAL: One could say that President Arif Alvi’s latest move has made his understanding of the constitution, that it is the president that must call the election when the National Assembly is dissolved by his orders, amply clear.
Yet, ironically, his letter to the chief election commissioner that sets, or maybe proposes, November 6 as the election date lends itself to multiple, even contradictory, interpretations.
You could also say that he was forced to approach the matter with a light touch, given that the SCBA (Supreme Court Bar Association) and PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) had already petitioned the top court about it; even though the latter was later returned for failure to approach lower courts first.
And now, despite a directive from the office of the president, we seem to be right back to square one; and nobody’s taking the deadline seriously.
It seems that the realisation has set in, finally, that institutional and political forums can do no more than play ping pong between themselves, and it is the judiciary that will ultimately have to arbitrate on this subject as well.
That means, you can be sure, that a fresh controversy will erupt the minute their lordships deliver their verdict; regardless of which way they lean in their latest interpretation of the constitution. And so, in so many ways, we go round and round in circles even as the country descends further and further into political, economic, and now constitutional crises as well.
ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan), along with the interim government and the coalition government before it, considers itself as the only credible, constitutional authority to announce the final date for the election.
In a way any further political or social debate is futile at this point because, as the recent past has shown repeatedly, once the ball falls in the judiciary’s court there is only one platform where final, definitive orders can flow from.
This is very unfortunate, because it not only underlines the hollowness of the principal pillars of the Pakistani state, once again, it also exposes the fault lines created by the twin dilemmas of politicisation of the judiciary and judicialisation of politics.
And just as the political elite has been shamelessly partisan right through this period of turbulence, refusing the slightest compromise even for the sake of the country and the people, it’s no secret that the legal fraternity has also left a little something to be desired.
What is more, all stakeholders, except for the people of course, are bent upon repeating this process, ad nauseum, even though the bigger picture is further blurred with each fresh round.
The people, meantime, are still in the dark about when they will get to choose their next leadership; hopefully one with the kind of popular mandate that can enable it to take tough decisions and rescue the economy.
ECP is staying typically mum in response to the chatter triggered by the president’s letter, and only one political party form the former ruling coalition seems to be sure that the vote will be sometime in February.
This only creates more uncertainty because putting two and two together tells you that the Commission is marshalling its resources with the first quarter of next year in mind, most likely. But at some point the judges will have something to say about it as well.
So the state must also have a contingency plan for the situation where the court feels that the constitution does not allow more than 90 days for the National Assembly at least, under any circumstances, and orders an immediate election.
Amid all this uncertainty, the only thing that can be said for sure is that certain constitutional provisions, like this 90-day deadline, have lost their significance. And also that the president’s office is no longer able to bear some of the burdens placed on it.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023