Constitution doesn’t empower ECP to fix general elections date, CEC responds to President

Sikandar Sultan Raja expresses displeasure over Arif Alvi’s letter about an ‘urgent meeting’ n Says we expects there will be a better choice of words while addressing institutions

ISLAMABAD        -       The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), in response to the letter sent by President Arif Alvi, expressed reservations over choice of words used in the letter. Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, also expressed displeasure over President Dr Arif Alvi’s letter written about an “urgent meeting” for the consultations over the date of the election. Chief Election Commissioner, in a letter written to the president, said that the ECP expects “parental guidance” from the office of the president — which is the highest constitutional body — towards other constitutional bodies.

“We expect that there will be a better choice of words while addressing such other constitutional institutions,” he mentioned in a letter, sent by President other day (Thursday). President had also asked for an ungent meeting over election date of two assemblies recently dissolved. The chief of electoral body said, "I would like to draw your kind attention to the constitutional obligations of the Election Commission of Pakistan under the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Elections Act, 2017." In the letter, he asked that was the Constitutional duty of the election commission to organise and conduct elections under Article 218(3) of the Constitution. He furthered that the commission was fully cognisant of its constitutional obligations to or ganise and conduct the election and has taken all necessary steps in this regard. With reference to the first two paragraphs of the president’s letter, the CEC said the commission was trying its “level best” to fulfil its Constitutional duties “without any pressure or fear”.

Raja further explained that the ECP had approached the governors of both provinces — Punjab’s Baligh Ur Rehman and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Shah Farman — for setting a date for provincial elections on January 24. The commission also claimed that it had issued reminders to both governors on January 29. “It will not be out of place to mention here that the role of the president and the governor of a province is clearly mentioned in Article 48(5) and 105(3) of the Constitution respectively,” he wrote, adding that the Constitution does not empower the commission to fix a date for a general election to an assembly in case of dissolution. Raja explained to the president that the commission is mandated to organise and conduct the election to the Senate of Pakistan, by-elections of the assemblies under Section 102 and the Senate without any consultation. “In this regard, it has fulfilled its obligations as so many by-elections to the Senate, National Assembly and provincial assemblies have been held well within time and the commission did not hesitate to announce the date of such elections,” he said, sharing the example of immediate announcement of schedule of elections on seats of National Assembly from where MNAs have resigned.

He further added that had the framers of the Constitution the intention to confer powers on the Commission to announce the poll date in case of dissolution of an assembly, it would have clearly mentioned the same in Articles 48, 58, 105 or 112 of the Constitution. “At the same time the Elections Act, 2017 also does not confer powers on the commission to announce a poll date except in Senate elections and all by-elections,” he emphasised. The CEC explained that following the petition filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and three other petitioners in the Lahore High Court (LHC), the court had directed the ECP to hold a consultative meeting with Punjab’s governor and fix a date for the poll. However, in the meeting conducted on February 14, at the Governor House in Lahore, “the Punjab governor regretted to announce the poll date and informed the ECP that he intends to approach the legal forum.”

After the meeting with the governor, the ECP decided to file a Civil Miscellaneous Application in the LHC seeking further guidance on the matter, but the office of the registrar objected to the application on the grounds that the matter stands decided and the application was not “maintainable.” “The commission has also challenged the judgment of the Lahore High Court on the ground that the Constitution and law do not provide any consultation by the commission with the Governor,” the letter elaborated.

The letter concluded that the ECP was looking forward to “parental guidance” from the “prestigious” office of the president adding that the commission had “utmost respect for the President’s office.” It may be mentioned here that the commission has also summoned important meeting to deliberate over election date.

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