Pakistan’s president slammed for declaring poll date in provinces

Islamabad, Pakistan – Yet another political crisis is brewing in Pakistan after President Arif Alvi bypassed the country’s election commission and unilaterally announced election dates for Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

In a letter to Sikandar Sultan Raja, Pakistan’s chief election commissioner, Alvi on Monday said he was using his constitutional authority to declare April 9 as the poll date in the two provinces.

The two assemblies were controlled by former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party before they were dissolved last month as part of Khan’s bid to force early general elections, otherwise due later this year.

“I am under oath to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan … Therefore I have felt it necessary to perform my constitutional and statutory duty to announce the date of elections,” Alvi, who is a senior leader of the PTI, wrote to Raja.

Following a meeting on Tuesday to discuss Alvi’s decision, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in a statement said it will seek further advice from the attorney general of Pakistan and other constitutional and legal experts over the matter.

Since his removal from office in April last year, cricketer-turned-politician Khan has been holding public rallies across Pakistan to demand early polls.

According to Pakistan’s constitution, provincial governors should announce new elections within 90 days of the dissolution of the assembly.

The controversy has only exacerbated the political instability in Pakistan at a time when the country is battling multiple challenges, including making fiscal adjustments to unlock crucial International Monetary Fund (IMF) funds urgently required to keep the economy afloat.

The ECP said it needed 15 billion rupees ($57m) to hold the elections in the two provinces. It also asked law enforcement agencies to provide security for the exercise. However, both the finance and defence ministries turned down its request.

‘President violated constitution’

In his letter to the ECP, Alvi said the governors in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces did not perform their constitutional duties by refusing to announce poll dates. The president also slammed the poll panel for dithering on the issue.

But the government as well as constitutional experts have condemned Alvi’s unilateral decision to announce the poll date.

During a National Assembly session on Monday, federal defence minister Khawaja Asif said the president was “exceeding his limits” and going by the orders of his party leader, Khan.

“The president is working as a worker of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. He does not have the authority to issue the election date. His actions are tantamount to violating the constitution,” the minister said in a speech.

Former ECP federal secretary, Kanwar Dilshad, told Al Jazeera the president should have waited before announcing a date.

“It is my considered opinion that the president violated the constitution. Pakistan’s constitution says in case of provincial assemblies, governors have the power to give the date. The president should have called them for consultation,” he said.

Dilshad said it is unlikely the elections will take place on April 9 and the matter may go to Pakistan’s top court.

Lahore-based lawyer and constitutional expert Reza Ali said the situation was heading towards an impasse and will create further hurdles, perhaps even forcing the chief election commissioner to resign.

“If this happens, the ruling coalition may delay the appointment of the new CEC which can stretch this crisis even more,” he told Al Jazeera.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the think tank, Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), said Pakistan’s constitution is ambiguous on the issue of the announcement of poll dates.

“The law states that the president shall announce the date but there are two additional conditions: to consult with the ECP and to seek advice from the prime minister. Neither has happened in this instance. I would say this decision to announce the date is not strictly according to the constitution,” he told Al Jazeera.

Mehboob, however, added that he favoured holding the election within the stipulated time frame.

“The stalemate is only going to worsen the political crisis, and I don’t see it improving any time soon either. The political parties need to sit together,” he said.

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