Pakistan likely to plunge into chaos as President Alvi to ‘announce election date anytime soon’

Alvi meets caretaker law minister who is of view that announcement of election date is ECP's prerogative

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President Arif Alvi in this still taken from a video. — BBC
President Arif Alvi in this still taken from a video. — BBC

  • President Alvi meets law minister to discuss matter of election date.
  • Law minister says announcement of election date ECP's prerogative.
  • PTI contends president to give poll date under the Constitution.

As the matter of the general elections in the country hangs in the balance with the political circles divided on the timing of the polls, President Arif Alvi is expected to announce the date for the electoral process anytime, sources privy to the development said on Monday.

They said that the matter of the poll date was discussed in a meeting of President Alvi with the caretaker law minister, who was of the view that the announcement of the election date is the prerogative of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

However, sources within the Presidential Palace claimed that the idea of Dr Alvi's likelihood of appointing a date is "wrong" as the deliberation on the matter of polls is still underway.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has called upon the president to announce the date for the elections in a letter written by the party's General Secretary Omar Ayub Khan.

The National Assembly and the provincial assemblies of Sindh and Balochistan were dissolved on August 9 with the president's approval, providing the onset of a caretaker government to run the country's affairs and hold the general elections.

"Under Article 48(5) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 when the President dissolves the National Assembly, he is to appoint a date not later than 90 days from the date of dissolution for the holding of general elections to the Assembly," the letter read.

It further stated that the said Article has also been interpreted in two judgements of the Supreme Court, namely Mohammad Sibtain Khan and others vs the ECP and the apex court's suo motu case on the elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's assemblies, which had been prematurely dissolved.

The letter referred to the apex court's decision in the suo motu case according to which when the president dissolves the NA, he has the authority to give a date for holding the general elections to the house.

"The giving of the date is hence a Constitutional obligation and mandate of the President of Pakistan. Needless to say, that loyalty to state and obedience to the Constitution and law is an inviolable obligation of every citizen wherever he may be and of every other person for the time being in Pakistan (Article 5)," it stated.

The letter mentioned that under Section 57 of the Elections Act, 2017, the electoral body has the right to appoint the date for elections but the section itself states that it is subject to the Constitution.

"As you are well aware, in any case, it is an established principle that no law can override the Constitution. Accordingly, the right of the ECP to fix a date for elections under the Election Act 2017 is subject to Article 48(5) of the Constitution, hence, when the National Assembly is dissolved by the President, it is the President alone who can fix the date," it added.

It urged President Alvi to exercise the authority to give a date for the polls as per the Constitution and the law as well as the judgements of the Supreme Court, so that the nation could choose the elected representatives and the country could function as per their will. 

Delimitation, controversy around elections

The PML-N-led PDM government dissolved the National Assembly on August 9 while the Sindh and Balochistan assemblies were also prematurely dissolved to allow the electoral authority to hold elections in the country within 90 days instead of 60 days if the legislature completed its constitutional tenure.

If the elections are to be held within the thee 90-day limit, then the polls are due on November 9, 2023.

However, before dissolving the assemblies the coalition government in a Council of Common Interest (CCI) meeting had unanimously approved the 7th Population and Housing Census 2023.

According to Article 51 (5) of the Constitution, the seats of the National Assembly to each province and the federal capital shall be allocated on the basis of population as per the new census.

Following CCI's approval, the ECP on August 17 announced the schedule of new delimitations which exceeded the November 9th 90-day constitutional limit, almost making sure that the elections are likely to be held post the 90-day mark.

As per the schedule announced by the ECP:

  • September 8 to October 7 — Delimitation of the constituencies to be held across the country.
  • October 10 to November 8 — Proposals regarding constituencies to be submitted.
  • September 5 to September 7 — A quota of constituencies of the national and provincial assemblies to be allocated.
  • August 21 — Constituency committees of four provinces to be established.
  • August 31 — Administrative matters related to the constituencies to be completed.
  • November 10 to December 9 — ECP to decide on the objections to the constituencies.
  • December 14 — Final publication of the delimitation.