President Arif Alvi on Wednesday urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to seek the Supreme Court’s guidance for a polls date after maintaining that, under Article 48(5) of the Constitution, general elections should be held no later than Nov. 6.
In a letter addressed to Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, the president once again weighed into the matter of a date for elections, though experts have questioned its utility, noting he has given no directions, merely advice, which has no legal standing. The prevailing view suggests the president was seeking to nullify pressure from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to issue a date for polls, but has accomplished little apart from establishing the electoral body’s argument against conducting elections until fresh delimitation has been conducted.
The letter notes that Article 48(5) empowers the president to appoint a date for general elections that is no later than 90 days from the date of dissolution of the National Assembly. In this regard, it states, polls should occur by the 89th day since the dissolution, or Nov. 6.
Alvi’s letter recalled that he had previously written to the CEC seeking a meeting to “devise the modalities of implementing the constitutional intent” but had been informed that issuing a date for elections was the sole mandate of the ECP after amendments to the electoral laws. The CEC, he wrote, had also informed him that fresh delimitation of constituencies was mandatory after the notification of census results under Article 51(5) of the Constitution and Section 17 of the Elections Act, 2017.
The president acknowledged that both the Federal Ministry of Law and Justice and all four provincial governments agreed with the ECP that it had the sole mandate to announce an election date. “Further, there is a consensus that to strengthen the federation and to promote unity and harmony amongst provinces and to avoid incurring of unnecessary expenses, general elections to the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies must be held on same day,” he added.
Emphasizing that it was the ECP’s responsibility to abide by all constitutional and legal steps stipulated under Articles 51, 218, 219, 220 of the Constitution and the Election Acts, 2017 to organize and conduct free and fair elections, he urged the electoral body to consult with provincial government and political parties on the matter.
“[T]aking into account all the above, the Election Commission of Pakistan in consultation with provincial governments and political parties under the relevant provisions of the Constitution and in view that some of these matters are already subjudice, may seek guidance from the superior judiciary for announcement of a single date for general election to the National and provincial assemblies,” he added.
The PTI’s core committee lauded the president for his letter, but in a misreading, claimed it had referred the matter of fixing the election date to the Supreme Court, rather than merely “advising” the ECP to do so. However, one of the PTI’s lawyers, Sher Afzal Khan Marwat, expressed disappointment at the contents of the letter. “The president was required to have issued a gazette notification in exercise of his powers under Article 48(5) of the Constitution and all other enabling provision in this behalf, including Article 58(2) of the Constitution, and direct that the elections be held on the date fixed by him,” he wrote on X. “Letter is not a notification and does not create any legal or constitutional obligations, and this way, President Alvi has failed to discharge his constitutional obligations. He has impliedly surrendered his authority, and it will weaken our case before the Supreme Court,” he added.
Interim P.M. Anwaarul Haq Kakar, meanwhile, maintained in an interview that the ECP had the mandate to announce a date for polls. He said that elections could take place by the end of January after the completion of delimitation, adding he believed the electoral body would issue a schedule “soon.”