The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) on Wednesday filed a petition in the apex court seeking orders for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to announce a date for general elections under Article 224(2) of the Constitution, and a suspension of the Council of Common Interests (CCI)’s decision to conduct the polls under the results of the digital census.
Earlier this month, a week ahead of the dissolution of the National Assembly, the CCI “unanimously” approved the 7th Population and Housing Census results, making it incumbent on the ECP to conduct the general elections after fresh delimitation of constituencies. The elections, initially scheduled to take place 90 days after the dissolution in November, now face delays of 3-4 months, with it appearing increasingly unlikely that polls would take place this year.
In its petition, the SCBA has argued that the CCI’s decision has no legal value, as Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were represented by unelected caretaker chief ministers who lack the authority to sign off on such important decisions. It stressed that under the the Constitution and the Elections Act, 2017, the primary function of the caretaker government is to hold elections, and not to exercise the full powers exercised by duly elected chief ministers.
Additionally, the SCBA petition states that the last-minute approval of the digital census’ results had created a constitutional dilemma that requires intervention of the apex court. Citing Article 224(2), the lawyers’ body argued that elections must take place within 90 days of the National Assembly’s dissolution and the ECP must announce a date in accordance with this. It stressed that the Constitution is “based on the principle of parliamentary democracy and without timely elections, the entire democratic system comes to a halt.”
The petition further argues that the ECP cannot initiate the process of delimitation required after the new census results, as this can only be carried out on the basis of the last preceding census. “Since no seats have been allocated on the basis of the impugned decision, the same cannot be implemented for the upcoming general election for the NA,” read the petition, adding the CCI’s decision was in violation of Article 224 (2). “The entire exercise is being conducted to delay the constitutionally mandated period for holding the elections,” the petition claimed.