The cat is out of the bag! The PDM succeeds in evading to enter the electoral arena. Terrified by the fear of losing the provincial assembly elections in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to its archrival, the PTI, it sticks to its earlier stance of delaying the elections, for as long as positive results are not ensured.
For the time being, it got a six months reprieve from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which postponed the general election in Punjab until October 8. And taking a cue from the Commission’s announcement, the Governor of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also conveyed (after 67 days’ delay) October 8 to be the date for polling in that Province. The detailed order of the ECP gives two reasons for the delay: one, security concerns, and two, funding constraints.
The country can ill afford to continue to tread on the path of ongoing political confrontation between the PTI and PDM. The Chief Justice may consider constituting a full court to ensure that the constitutional command of free, fair and impartial election is strictly adhered to, and the executive authorities, including the armed forces, provide the required help and assistance to the Commission in conducting free, fair and timely elections of the electoral bodies
It explains that the agencies of the Federal Government, in particular, the Ministries of Interior, Defence and Finance and the Chief Secretary of the caretaker Government of the Punjab, expressed their inability to assist the Commission in holding elections. Seemingly, the Commission found itself in agreement with the Government point of view and readily postponed the elections.
Whereas the alliance between the Federal Government and Caretaker Government of the Punjab, as regards their common object to frustrate the PTI struggle for early elections, is an open secret, the echoing of their stance by the Ministry of Defence (the Establishment), is a disturbing development. Disturbing because only recently it had announced withdrawal from active politics and gave assurance of remaining neutral in the political parties’ power game.
Quite obviously, the Ministry of Defence failed to furnish sound reasons/justifications for their refusal to perform a vital national task/duty, which it had been performing earlier on. Their joining hands with the executive organ of the Sstate reveals the formation of a ‘grand alliance’ between the real power-wielders in the current political dispensation. That the ECP too chose to shun impartiality and become a pawn in the power game, is regrettable and condemnable, to say the least.
These are disturbing developments not only for the sustenance of democratic dispensation in the country, but continuation of the legal and constitutional system of governance. It adds to the problems of the general public, already faced with the multiple malaises of rising incidents of terrorism/militancy, increase in street crime, near collapse of the economic/financial system and spiraling inflation. Suffering the pains and agony of unemployment, malnutrition and disease, they see a bleak future for themselves and their future generations. On the contrary, the ruling class is bereft of the feelings to empathize with them. With a few honourable exceptions, the political class, whether in power or in opposition, working in the legislature or executive organs, has thoroughly disappointed the nation. Their non-stop mutual bickering, abuse/ and misuse of power and authority, inept system of governance and prevalence of massive corruption, have wrought untold sorrow and suffering for the hapless nation. The general public therefore looks forward to a saviour.
In earlier times, it would have been coup d’etat and imposition of martial law. This would have momentarily pacified the bulk of the general population. But not anymore. Such an option is out of course and out of fashion in Pakistan, which suffered greatly in terms of loss of territory and threats to its security, solidarity and national cohesion during such administrations. Besides, the recent disclosure regarding the role of the Establishment in the post-2018 General Elections scenario; their earlier support to the PTI government through half its term, followed by switching sides and installing the PDM government, is looked upon by the people with a sense of disgust and revulsion. More so because the experiments failed and such political engineering is quoted as the reason for the impending economic disaster and spiralling inflation. Besides, times have changed and the current international scenario does not support any such adventurism by a Bonaparte.
In the circumstances, all eyes are turned towards the third pillar of the State, namely, the judiciary and especially the Supreme Court. The effort should be to rescue the democratic dispensation and constitutional system of governance, necessary for good governance, rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights.
The law and the Constitution are clear and categorical on the subject of fixing timespan for holding elections to the provincial legislatures. Article 224 (2) and 105 (3) provide for organizing elections within a maximum period of 90 days, following the dissolution of the Provincial Assembly. The date is to be fixed by the Governor. This point was borne out in the Supreme Court order in the Suo Moto Case No 1 of 2023. The Court ordered the ECP to fix the date after consultation with the President, as required under Section 57 (1) of the Election Act 2017. As regards the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Court charged the Governor for breach in discharge of his constitutional responsibility.
The Supreme Court further reminded the Federal Government of its obligation [under Article 148 (3)] “to ensure that the Government of every Province is carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution”. The Court clarified that such obligation includes the organization/holding of timely election to the provincial assembly. The Court further asked the Federal/Provincial Governments to assist the Commission in its task of organizing free and fair elections and directed the ECP to proceed forthwith and avoid deviation from the election schedule. Following the constitutional command and Supreme Court order, it is hard to imagine how the ECP can delay the polling date. The reasons and grounds for the delay,. security threats and financial constraints, are lame and untenable; indeed, once accepted, elections will never be held in the country.
There is nothing in the law or the Constitution, authorizing the Commission to delay the elections. Its functions merely include making arrangements for holding free and fair elections and guarding against corrupt practices. No wonder then that while announcing the delay, the Commission did not refer to any provision of the Constitution.
The ECP, Federal Cabinet, the caretaker set-up in the Punjab and Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are seemingly in breach of the Constitution as well as in contempt of the Supreme Court for disobeying its order, together with others, who are conspiring and/or aiding/abetting the contemptuous act. The Court needs to stand by the Constitution and uphold its orders/directions, otherwise there will be chaos, posing threat to the very survival of the nation. Given the impending economic/financial collapse and rising inflation, coupled with the increasing incidents of terrorism and crimes, the country can ill afford to continue to tread on the path of ongoing political confrontation between the PTI and PDM. The Chief Justice may consider constituting a full court to ensure that the constitutional command of free, fair and impartial election is strictly adhered to, and the executive authorities, including the armed forces, provide the required help and assistance to the Commission in conducting free, fair and timely elections of the electoral bodies.
(The writer served as Registrar, Supreme Court and Secretary, Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan)