Article 48(5) mandates president “to appoint a date” for polls, Arif Alvi states in a letter to CEC Sikandar Sultan Raja

ISLAMABAD: The controversy surrounding the general elections deepened as President Arif Alvi on Wednesday wrote a letter to the chief election commissioner (CEC), suggesting that the polls “should be held on November 6”.

The president said that in the light of Article 48(5) of the Constitution, he has the authority and mandate “to appoint a date not later than 90 days from the date of dissolution [of assemblies], for holding of a general election to the assembly.”

Alvi also said that the National Assembly was dissolved by him on the advice of the then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif on August 9, 2023.

“[…] in terms of Article 48(5) the general election to the National Assembly should be held by the eighty-ninth day of the date of dissolution of the National Assembly, i.e. Monday 6th Day of November 2023,” the letter stated.

It also read that in a bid to fulfil the constitutional obligations, the president invited CEC Sikander Sultan Raja for a meeting to devise the modalities of implementing the constitutional intent and mandate for appointing a date, but the latter took a “contrary view” that it was the Election Commission of Pakistan’s domain under the Constitution and framework of electoral laws.

 

 

Moreover, the CEC maintained that after the publication of Census 2023 on August 7, the duly notified delimitation of constituencies was in progress as required by Article 51(5) and section 17 of the Elections Act, 2017, the letter added.

It further stated that the Ministry of Law and Justice, all provivincial governments also voiced the same opinion.

Furthermore, President Alvi also called for the general elections to the lower house of parliament and all provincial assemblies to be conducted on the same date.

Earlier today, federal and provincial law ministers unanimously urged all organs of the state to respect the autonomy and authority of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in carrying out the delimitation of constituencies and determining the election schedule.

This statement by the law ministers was conveyed via an official statement following a meeting chaired by caretaker Law and Justice Minister Ahmad Irfan Aslam in Islamabad.

The meeting — attended by provincial law ministers Kanwar Dilshad (Punjab), Muhammad Omer Soomro (Sindh), Arshad Hussain Shah (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Amanullah Kanrani (Balochistan) — was held to discuss matters pertaining to the upcoming general elections to the National and provincial assemblies.

It concluded after the huddle determined that the conduct of general elections and announcement of election dates is the sole competence of the country’s electoral authority, as per the Constitution.

“The Election Commission of Pakistan is an independent constitutional body,” the statement, issued by the ministry, read.

The statement by the law ministry comes a day after caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, too, issued a similar statement in the wake of speculations regarding the announcement of the election date by President Alvi.

The president, during his second meeting with the interim federal law minister, had discussed the matter of the election schedule. He was reportedly expected to announce the date of the election.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz-led (PML-N) coalition 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 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.
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