Election postponement – 24 Mar 2023

The ECP’s decision to postpone the Punjab Assembly election has put the ball in the Supreme Court’s dock

The sudden, but much anticipated, decision by the Election Commission of Pakistan to postpone the election to Punjab Assembly has put the ball in the Supreme Court’s dock. This move is unconstitutional, per se, and as per a recent ruling of the apex court stands in contempt. This fixation will have its consequences on the political mosaic in days to come, and it is highly likely that the top court will strike down the electoral watchdog’s decision to postpone election as ‘constitutional overreach’, opening a Pandora’s box of what next as powers-that-be sit literally fingers-crossed.

This unnerving situation is also under discussion at the ongoing joint session of the parliament, but if the merit of debate is any criterion, the ruling coalition is too divisive to take a call. As Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah took pauses and punctuations in stating the obvious whether the government wants to abide by the top court ruling to hold elections on April 30, and went on to question why polls cannot be delayed, as there exists a convention too, he has simply compounded the decision-making process. His synopsis that the public representatives and the stakeholders must guide the parliament is likely to put the government at loggerheads with the categorically spelt-out dictates of the constitution. This is where the catch-22 situation rests for the beleaguered coalition at the helm of affairs.

It is a volte-face premise as the Election Commission argues its case under the provisions of Article 218(3), read with Section 58 and Section 8(c) of the Elections Act, 2017. But the point is that, perhaps, at this stage of time invoking those powers might be seen as malafide intent, and under no compulsion can the electoral watchdog go on to suggest unilaterally the date for election in Punjab as October 8. The Chief Justice of Pakistan had, the other day, made it clear that the court would interfere in case the elections are delayed, and the issue will be under the hammer soon, as the PTI has announced moving the top court against the ‘unconstitutional move’ and seeking action against the whole of Election Commission under Article 6 of the Constitution.

Political heat is gathering at the same time as the PTI plans to hit the streets. With hundreds of its supporters under arrest, booked for vandalism, it will be a messy floor to tread both for the administration and the political parties. The equation is fraught with serious consequences as if any misadventure to disregard the court intervention, and subsequent orders, might even lead to a complete chaos. That brinkmanship must be avoided at any cost, things cooled down, and efforts made to strike a congenial deal. With hints from both the government and the opposition to talk it out, nothing should come in as an obstacle. Let the writ of law prevail over jaundiced ambitions.

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