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PR Short Notes


Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 559, 21 February 2023

A tale of twists: President ArifAlvi fixes 9 April for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab polls



What did the President say, how did the government react and what it means

Bhoomika Sesharaj

On 20 February, President ArifAlvi secured 9 April as the date for elections for the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies ad said that the decision came out of his “oath” to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution. In a move that led to objection by the government as “unconstitutional and illegal,” President Alvi’s decision stirred the National Assembly and was deemed “unilateral” as well. In a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja, President Alvi said that the date was announced under Section 57 (1) of the Elections Act and that he has “asked” the ECP to issue the election schedule under Section 57 (2) of the Act. This comes after the ECP said that it would “not consult” the President for the elections. 

What did the President say?

In his letter, President Alvi said that there was “no impediment” in his decision to invoke the authority to decide the date of the elections under the Elections Act and held that the Act “empowered” him to announce the general dates “after consultation” with the ECP. He said that it “felt necessary” to “perform” his official and statutory duty to announce the dates to “avoid infringement and breach of the Constitution and law.” President Alvi’s decision precedes his previous claims of the Punjab and KP governors for the lack of performance of their “constitutional duties” as well as the ECP’s inability to “fulfil” its constitutional obligations with regard to the elections. 

Additionally, he added that both the constitutional agencies were “placing the ball in each other’s court,” delayed the decision and created a “serious danger” that could violate “constitutional provisions.” Further, he said that he had initiated a “serious consultation process” with the ECP and that the commission had “refused” to participate in a meeting relating to the matter. 

What did the government and opposition say?

Responding to the President’s decision for the 9 April polls, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said that the announcement of the dates for the provincial polls led to the “abrogation” of the Constitution and said that the President had “no role” in announcing dates for the general elections to the provincial assemblies. Asif held that President Alvi was “acting” as a “PTI worker” and that he “brought disrespect” to the President’s office. Meanwhile, Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar said that the subject of constitutionalism “do not suit” President Alvi and that Article 48 (5) of the Constitution only allows a president to announce a decisive date for the election after the dissolution of the National Assembly by him. 

Further, Tarar said that Article 105 (3) of the Constitution allows the governor to announce the dates for the polls for the province “in case” he had dissolved the provincial assembly and that the Punjab Assembly was not dissolved by the governor, which makes the matter sub judice and leads to a court to make a decision regarding the matter. Tarar reiterated that the President has “no power to either make laws or to interpret them.” 

PPP Senators Raza Rabbani and Sherry Rehman condemned the President’s decision and said that the announcement of the election dates of the provincial assemblies was “not supported” by the Constitution and that it “provides no such role” to the President. Rabbani said that the Constitution has been “reduced” to a “green book with no soul by all stakeholders” and remarked that the President should “stop pontificating” on constitutionalism and held that the elections can only be held after 90 days of the dissolution of an Assembly. Responding to the decision, Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman rejected the President’s announcement and said that the Election Act allows the President to announce “general elections” only after consulting the Election Commission of Pakistan and that President Alvi is “flouting” the Constitution to “please” Imran Khan and that he should “respect” his position and powers. 

What does it mean?

In an editorial in The News International, President Alvi’s decision to hold polls on 9 April is said to have caused a “constitutional-cum-political crisis” in the country and leads as a precedent as the first time in Pakistan’s electoral history where elections to the national and the four provincial assemblies may not take place around the same time. News International said that the prospect of holding polls only to two provincial assemblies brings into perspective the inability of the Constitution to provide an answer to the impending question of holding the elections through a specific agency and that the “constitutional” scheme of the country needs the poll date in a general election to be fixed by the executive through the either the governors or the president. 

The President’s urgent decision to decide the poll dates without proper consultation with the ECP holds that he did not take any advice from the Prime Minister and also brings the Supreme Court to be the only form for legal and constitutional provisions to be interpreted and for conclusive rulings to be given to resolve the crisis. Additionally, The Express Tribune said that President Alvi’s decision to announce the dates turned the political stalemate into a “big constitutional crisis” and held that the hard stance taken by all the parties of the country has turned the crisis into a severe one, keeping in mind the deep embroilment of the country’s financial, economic and political crises. The Express Tribune said that the political system was “rapidly unravelling” as various institutions were “going in different directions” and that the system could not afford to function in this manner if the political patterns of the country could not be predicted and maintained. Scholar and professor Hassan Askari said: “We don’t know what is going to happen in the next two months and this is the most unfortunate situation that a country could face.”

References:

Iftikhar A Khan, “Alvi goes solo, fixes April 9 for KP, Punjab polls,” Dawn, 21 February 2023

 “Alvi move plunges country into crisis,” The News International, 21 February 2023 “President has no constitutional role in announcing poll dates: PPP senators,” The News International, 21 February 2023

Political stalemate: Is constitutional crisis looming?,” The Express Tribune, 21 February 2023

A presidential twist,” The News International, 21 February 2023; “Poll announcement,” Dawn, 21 February 2023

 

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