The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday night directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to ensure that polls in Punjab are held within 90 days of the dissolution of the provincial assembly.
Announcing a verdict that had been reserved earlier in the day, Justice Jawad Hassan accepted the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s petition and said the electoral body should conduct polls within the constitutional limit. “…the ECP is directed to immediately announce the date of election of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab with the notification specifying reasons, after consultation with the Governor of Punjab, being the constitutional Head of the Province, to ensure that the elections are held not later than 90 days as per the mandate of the Constitution,” the judgement concludes, citing Supreme Court precedents and several constitutional provisions.
Noting that there is no “shadow of doubt” that the Constitution mandates the conduct of elections within 90 days after a provincial assembly is dissolved under Article 105 as per the time frame provided under Articles 112 and 224(2) of the Constitution, the ruling acknowledged that Article 224 was silent on who should announce the date for elections if the governor did not dissolve the assembly. “In the first eventuality, where the Governor uses his constitutional powers to dissolve the assembly, he is clearly bound under Article 105(3)(a) to appoint a date not later than 90 days from the date of dissolution, for the holding of general elections to the Assembly but Article 105 is silent and does not clearly specify as to who is the authority to declare the date of election in the above-mentioned second eventuality,” it said.
However, it stressed, jurisprudence developed in various judgments made it clear that the ECP was the apex authority charged with the duty of holding general elections and all executive authorities were required to assist it in the discharge of its constitutional functions.
The PTI had moved the LHC to direct the ECP to issue a date for polls in Punjab after repeatedly urging the electoral body to take action following the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly on Jan. 14. During proceedings on Friday, the Punjab Inspector general of police and chief secretary appeared before the court and assured it that they would follow the directions of the ECP. The ECP’s lawyer, meanwhile, asserted that implementing Article 220 was not the electoral body’s job, adding that the court has already noted it does not wish to issue an un-implementable verdict.
“How can my client conduct the polls if it is not being provided with funds?” he asked, adding that the ECP requires complete support from the federal government. “I have objections to the acceptance of this plea. In the law, election date can be delayed,” he said, stressing there was no law that required the ECP to give a date for the elections.
Meanwhile, Governor Balighur Rehman’s lawyer maintained that if his client had dissolved the assembly, then he would have liable to announce the date for polls. Urging the court to reject the petition for being ineffective, he stressed the governor was not bound to give a date for the polls.