President Alvi violated Constitution by not giving poll date: CJP Isa

All election arrangements including delimitation will be completed on Jan 29, says ECP lawyer

By
Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui
|
Maryam Nawaz
Police officers walk past the Supreme Court of Pakistan building, in Islamabad, Pakistan April 6, 2022. — Reuters
Police officers walk past the Supreme Court of Pakistan building, in Islamabad, Pakistan April 6, 2022. — Reuters

  • Three-member bench led by CJP Isa hears set of pleas. 
  • Polls to be conducted on February 11, says ECP lawyer. 
  • All arrangements including delimitation will be completed on Jan 29.


ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa Thursday remarked that President Arif Alvi violated the Constitution by not giving a date for general elections.

He made these remarks while hearing a set of petitions seeking timely elections within 90 days of the dissolution of the assemblies. The CJP is heading a three-member bench also comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Amin-Ud-Din Khan on the matter.

The pleas were filed by the Supreme Court Bar Association, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and others to ensure that polls in the country are held within the stipulated time period.

In the previous hearing, CJP Isa observed that it was “not possible” to meet the 90-day deadline for holding elections and lamented the lack of preparations of the petitioners.

At the outset of the hearing, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) counsel Farooq Naek told the court that his party had submitted the request to become a party in the case.

After this, PTI's lawyer Ali Zafar started his arguments by saying that the party has limited its petition to only seeking timely elections.

"Elections must be held within 90 days after the dissolution of assemblies as per the Constitution," he stressed.

At this, CJP Isa said that the plea seeking polls within 90 days has then become ineffective. "The court was told that it was impossible to hold polls within 90 days in the previous hearing," he remarked.

Zafar then said that PTI only wants elections.

He further said that there won't be any parliament and law if elections are not conducted.

"Giving a date and schedule of elections are two different things. President Dr Arif Alvi had written a letter to hold consultations with the ECP," he remarked.

The CJP observed that the president had written in his letter that the court should look into the matter of elections.

"Is the president saying that court should take notice of the issue about elections?" he questioned.

At this, Zafar replied that the president had said that the court can also review the matter.

CJP Isa then said that the president did not give any date for elections in his letter. "Did the president not fulfil his constitutional duty?" he asked.

Zafar said that the president fulfilled his responsibility by consulting on the elections.

On this point, Justice Minallah asked why the president wrote the letter in September and not on August 15 after the assemblies were dissolved on August 9.

"Did the president only ask the Supreme Court verbally to take notice of the matter?" asked CJP. He further said that the head of state wrote the letter to the ECP and not to SC.

CJP Isa then questioned whether the apex court had the authority to give a date for polls. "Is it necessary for the president to consult the prime minister to give a date?" he inquired.

Zafar replied that consultations are not necessary as the president has his own constitutional duty to give a date.

Justice Minallah asked if the Election Commission had asked the president to give a date for the elections.

To which the PTI lawyer said that the ECP had told the president he didn't have the authority to appoint a date for polls.

At this point, the top judge asked if action could be taken against the president for not giving a poll date.

The CJP then said that the ECP says it has the authority to give a date as per Section 57 of the Election Act. "Did you challenge the amendment in Section 57?" he questioned.

Zafar told the court that it was the Election Commission and president's responsibility to give a date.

Justice Khan, interjecting at this point, said that the president should have given a date even if ECP hadn't held consultations. "Why did he (president) not announce a date?" he asked.

Meanwhile, Justice Minallah observed that the Constitution was very clear that the president had to give a poll date.

The SC judge remarked that the ECP also violated the Constitution as it was mandatory for the body to hold consultations on the matter.

"ECP, the federal government and the president are responsible for the delay in elections," he added.

Polls to be held on Feb 11: ECP

After that, ECP's lawyer Sajeel Swati told the court that the general elections in the country will be held on February 11, 2024.

"Elections in the country will be held in the country [after] completion of delimitation on November 30," ECP's lawyer Sajeel Swati told the three-member bench.

The ECP's lawyer, while sharing the schedule with the apex court, said that all arrangements including delimitation will be completed on January 29.

Explaining the delimitation process, the lawyer said it would take them 3 to 5 days to issue the final lists. he added that if 54 days are counted from December 5 then it would conclude on January 29.

The lawyer said that the ECP was looking to hold the polls on Sunday to make it easier for the people to participate in the elections. He added that under this plan the first Sunday would have fallen on February 4 and the second would be on February 11.

"We decided on our own that elections should be held on Sunday, February 11," said the lawyer.

On hearing this, CJP Isa directed the lawyer to tell the chief election commissioner to consult the president and get back to the court.

The Supreme Court then adjourned the hearing of the case till 2pm.

ECP to consult about date with president

Later, the court ordered the ECP to consult the president on the matter.

The election commission's lawyer told the court that the electoral body has decided to hold consultations with President Alvi on the date.

"The ECP will consult with the president in the shortest time possible and without getting into any constitutional debate," he added.

CJP Isa advised the ECP's lawyer to contact the president's principal secretary today. He also told him to keep the attorney general on board.

"The attorney general should make an appointment with the president today or tomorrow," said the chief justice, stressing that the ECP will not be allowed to extend the election date.

The CJP said that no petitions will be heard once the date is confirmed.

The top court said that it should be informed about the date after the ECP and president decide on it.

The Supreme Court then adjourned the hearing till Friday (tomorrow).

Ambiguity over polls

The Shehbaz Sharif-led government dissolved the National Assembly on August 9, while Sindh and Balochistan assemblies were also prematurely dissolved to allow the electoral authority to hold elections in the country within 90 days.

Had the assemblies been dissolved on time, the electoral body was constitutionally bound to hold polls in 60 days.

However, the ECP decided against holding polls within the stipulated time as the Council of Common Interest (CCI), days before the dissolution of the assemblies, approved the 7th Population and Housing Census 2023.

The CCI approval made it mandatory for the commission to hold elections following fresh delimitations in light of the results of the census.

Subsequently, on August 17, the ECP announced the schedule of new delimitations to be carried out as per the new census approved by the CCI.

But in September, the commission announced that general elections in the country would take place in the last week of January 2024.

However, before the announcement, multiple petitions were filed in the Supreme Court against the delay in polls.

All the petitioners have asked the apex court to ensure that polls are held within 90 days.

These petitions were filed during the tenure of former chief justice Umar Ata Bandial, however, they were not fixed for a hearing.