The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to consult with President Arif Alvi on a date for general elections, adding the finalized date should then be conveyed to the court by tomorrow (Friday).
“Knock his door even if he [Alvi] doesn’t call you,” Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa said to the ECP’s lawyer, adding Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan and senior lawyer Farooq H. Naek could also attend the meeting. Dictating the order of the proceedings in the case, the CJP stressed that the election date given would have to be implemented. “Supreme Court wants polls to be held without any arguments,” he said, adding the court did not want to dwell on technicalities and wished to arrive on a solution to the problem.
Earlier, during proceedings, the ECP informed the apex court it would conduct general elections nationwide on Feb. 11, 2024—though the actual date remains in limbo as the electoral body has yet to issue a formal notification of the same. The ECP’s lawyer made the disclosure of a date for polls during a hearing into petitions calling for timely polls. “Elections in the country will be held in the country [after] completion of delimitation on Nov. 30,” ECP lawyer Sajeel Swati told a three-member bench led by the CJP and comprising Justices Athar Minallah and Aminud Din Khan.
To probing by the court, the ECP’s lawyer said all necessary arrangements for the elections, including delimitation, would be completed by Jan. 29. He explained that after the completion of the delimitation process, the ECP would require 3-5 days to issue final lists. Following this, he said, 54 days would be required for the electoral process, reaching Jan. 29.
The lawyer said the ECP wished to conduct polls on Sunday to facilitate the public, adding the first such date was Feb. 4, while the second was Feb. 11. “We decided on our own that elections should be held on Sunday, Feb. 11,” the lawyer added. To this, the CJP directed the lawyer to ask the chief election commissioner to consult the president and get back to the court on a date for polls.
At the outset of the hearing, PPP lawyer Naek appeared before the apex court and requested to become a respondent in the case, which he was permitted to do after PTI’s lawyer Ali Zafar voiced no objections. Commencing his arguments, Zafar said polls should be held within 90 days, which the CJP observed was no longer possible. The lawyer said his argument was based on fundamental rights, with Justice Isa asked if he just wanted elections now. Zafar replied in the affirmative.
“Will anyone oppose it?” the chief justice asked. In his reply, the PTI counsel said no. The CJP then asked Attorney General for Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan if he had any objections to polls, to which the latter also replied in the negative. Zafar then argued that under the Constitution, there could be no Parliament without elections, nor could laws be enacted.
“The law ministry believes the president cannot give a date for polls,” he said, noting elections should be held on Nov. 7 in accordance with the passage of 90 days since the dissolution of the National Assembly.
During the proceedings, Justice Minallah asked why it took the president so long after the assembly’s dissolution to write a letter to the ECP, with the CJP also noting that the text was “vague.” He also observed that the president had not sought a legal opinion on the matter from the Supreme Court.
At one point, the CJP asked the PTI counsel if he was arguing that the president did not fulfil his constitutional responsibility. “The assembly was dissolved on Aug. 9 but the president wrote the letter in September,” he said. “The command of the Constitution is very clear that the president had to give the date, there is no disagreement in it,” remarked Justice Minallah. Zafar however said he believed the president had fulfilled the responsibility. To this, Justice Minallah said objections could have been avoided if the president gave an election date the day the National Assembly was dissolved.
“What do you want from us now? Do you want us to direct the president to give a date? The president says he took advice from so and so. Can this court now issue a writ against the president?” the CJP asked, questioning further if the Supreme Court could give a date for elections.
Justice Minallah observed that Article 98 of the Constitution was very clear on the court’s role in the matter. “Did the ECP ever say that the president should give the election date?” he asked, with Zafar replying that the electoral body had informed the president it had the mandate to give a date for polls. He said the apex court’s role in this matter should also be examined.
“Your leader is also the ‘leader’ of the president. Why wasn’t the president told to announce a date for elections?” he asked Zafar, referring to a recent interview of Alvi in which he had described PTI chief Imran Khan as his “leader.” The CJP also observed that the president’s suggested date for polls in his latter had fallen after the constitutionally stipulated 90-day period ended.
At one point, Justice Khan remarked that Zafar’s boiled down to the president deviating from the Constitution. “Prima facie the president, ECP and government are all responsible,” Justice Minallah said. “The question now is what will be the result of this,” he said, adding elections should be held on time as every day beyond the prescribed 90-day period to hold polls was “a violation of the Constitution.”
The issue at hand pertains to the ECP’s failure to conduct elections within 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly. The former government had notified census results in its last week in power, requiring the ECP to conduct fresh delimitation prior to polls, triggering a months-long delay. This has triggered uncertainty over the polls, with most political parties now demanding that the ECP issue a date. The petitions being heard were filed during the tenure of former CJP Umar Ata Bandial, but were only fixed for hearing after his retirement.