President Alvi invites CEC Raja for meeting to fix ‘appropriate date’ for elections – Pakistan

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President Alvi invites CEC Raja for meeting to determine the date for general elections – Pakistan

President Arif Alvi has extended an invitation to Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja for a meeting to discuss and finalize an appropriate date for the upcoming general elections. The invitation comes in compliance with the constitutional requirement for the president to decide on an election date within 90 days after the dissolution of the National Assembly (NA).

In a letter addressed to the CEC, President Alvi highlighted that the NA was dissolved on August 9, three days before its mandated period, upon the advice of then-prime minister Shehbaz Sharif. According to Article 48(5) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the president is obligated to appoint a date for the general elections within 90 days from the date of dissolution. Hence, President Alvi has requested the CEC’s presence for the meeting, which is scheduled to take place either today or tomorrow, to determine the appropriate election date.

It is worth noting that while the president has referenced the constitutional provisions defining his role in determining the election date, a recent amendment to the Elections Act 2017 has granted the Election Commission of Pakistan the authority to independently announce election dates without consulting the president.

President Alvi’s invitation to the CEC arises in light of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s statement ruling out elections this year after the notification of the latest 2023 digital census. As per Article 224 of the Constitution, elections must be held within 90 days of the assembly’s dissolution. However, Section 17(2) of the Elections Act states that constituency delimitation should occur after each officially published census. Consequently, the ECP has projected that the process of fresh delimitation will be completed after December 14, exceeding the constitutionally mandated deadline for conducting the general elections.

Opinions on the President’s role differ. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Chairman of the Islamabad-based public policy think tank Pildat, believes that President Alvi aims to exercise his prerogative under Article 48. However, he asserts that the president is bound by the prime minister’s advice and cannot independently exercise this authority. Thus, the president can only set an election date if advised by the prime minister. Mehboob also contests the ECP’s stance on holding elections after delimitation, considering it unnecessary from a constitutional perspective.

Former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad, on the other hand, asserts that the electoral watchdog is an independent entity and no longer falls under the president’s jurisdiction due to the constitutional amendment to the Elections Act 2017. He affirms that even if the president announces an election date independently, the ECP would dismiss it. However, Supreme Court Bar Association President Barrister Abid Shahid Zuberi contends that disregarding the president’s directives could be considered a breach of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, the ECP has invited the PPP, PML-N, PTI, and JUI-F for discussions on matters concerning the elections. These discussions will cover topics such as constituency delimitation, updating electoral rolls, the conduct and schedule of the general elections, and other related matters. The party leaders are requested to participate either in person or through their representatives at the designated ECP secretariat on specific dates.

Overall, President Alvi’s invitation to the CEC aims to determine a suitable date for the general elections, adhering to constitutional requirements. The role of the president, the ECP, and the ongoing discussions with political parties will likely contribute to the resolution of the election date issue.

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