Today is the day the Supreme Court ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold elections to the Punjab Assembly, which was dissolved prematurely on January 14 after Chief Minister Pervez Elahi tendered advice to this effect. Constitutional provisions led to the Assembly’s automatic dissolution. The Constitution mandates fresh elections within 90 days, which should have meant by April 15. The date was at issue. The Supreme Court ruled that the President would set the date, which he did for April 20. However, the Election Commission of Pakistan then decided to delay those elections to October 8, saying that it had not got the money it needed, and nor did the security situation allow. The Supreme Court then said the ECP could not change the polling date, setting May 14. The Court also issued a fresh election programme, as well as dates by which money needed (Rs 20 billion) was to be transferred to the Election Commission. The Court summoned both State Bank and Defence Ministry officials, who argued that neither money nor security could be provided.
Meanwhile, the first case had paid cursory attention to the KP Assembly, dissolved on January 18 by the Governor, with the Governor asked to supply a date. He first gave May 28 as the date, then changed it to October 8, after the ECP changed the Punjab date. Into the question of holding the elections on time, the question of the Chief Justice’s suo motu powers has come in, as well as the relative positions of the Supreme Court and Parliament. In the midst of these grand constitutional debates, the constitutional provision of elections within 90 days somehow got lost sight of. The failure to obey itself became a weapon, a stick for one side to beat the other on the head with. Not to put too fine a point on it, the elections are being put off by the government, and called for by the PTI, because they see political advantage, not because of any overarching principle.
The political nature of choosing an election date can be gauged from the fact that the power to dissolve (and thus set off a process ending in elections in 90 days) exists at all. If elections to all assemblies must be held on the same day, a constitutional amendment is needed. An illustration of how the Constitution is supposed to operate may be seen across the border, where election to just one provincial legislature, Karnataka, have been held. India has many defects, but the constitutionally mandated election has to be held on time. There seems no concept of not doing so.