According to a press release issued by the President’s Secretariat’s Press Wing, President Arif Alvi unilaterally announced April 9 as the date for holding general elections for the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies. The elections are being held in both provinces after previous PTI governments dissolved their legislatures before the end of their five-year terms on the orders of party chairman Imran Khan.
The president’s unilateral announcement of the election date came after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) declined his invitation to consult on election dates.
According to the statement, President Alvi made the decision under Section 57(1) (notification of election programme) of the Elections Act, 2017 and asked the CEC to issue the election programme under Section 57(2) of the same Act, citing a letter sent by President Alvi to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), Sikander Sultan Raja.
Legal experts are largely of the opinion that the elections in Punjab and KP should not, and indeed cannot, be postponed. To opt for a delay in elections meant to be held within a specific timeframe, extraordinary circumstances would have to exist. As constitutional experts argue, we are not currently in such an exceptional situation, and removing the right of the people to choose their representatives based solely on the whims or fears of the ruling elite will only erode people’s trust in the system.
The constitution does not require general elections to be held on the same day, making the delay even more perplexing. It also gives the impression that the PML-N, the party at the forefront of the current government, is running away from elections. That is not a good look for a ruling party.
There has also been some speculation that if the PTI and PDM were to reach an agreement—a rare occurrence, if at all—on postponing the Punjab and KP elections and holding the general elections on the same day, they would be required to amend the constitution. With all of these complications, the government’s strategy of postponing elections without any legal or constitutional basis is clearly based on shaky ground.
The Lahore High Court had requested that the Punjab election date be announced by the ECP. The ECP questioned the governors. If the governors do not announce the date of the elections, the matter will be remanded to the courts. What does it say about the country’s political stakeholders when everything, from price increases to governor appointments to elections, is fought out in court? Pakistan has already experienced enough political turmoil in the last year; postponing the elections in Punjab and KP will add to the political uncertainty and chaos. This comes at a price. On all fronts, we are already witnessing a polarised society.
The PTI’s strategy of dissolving its two assemblies first and now launching the “Jail Bharo” movement foreshadows more political turmoil and pressure. The government may not succumb to it, but that does not mean it ignores what others see written large on the political walls: the PTI sets the daily news agenda, while the government fumbles around trying to catch up. Is this necessary when the economic boat has a massive hole in it?