To have or not to have general elections this year-end was the question that had been tormenting the people of Pakistan until September 21 when the Election Commission declared them at the end of January 2024. The National Assembly has been dissolved since August 9 by President Arif Alvi on the advice of outgoing Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
The date of the elections became a bone of contention among the President, the Election Commission of Pakistan, the Supreme Court, the Army, and the powerful Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan that guides it from his prison cell.
Article 48(5) of the Pakistani Constitution says, “When the President dissolves the National Assembly, he shall in his discretion appoint a date not later than 90 days, from the date of the dissolution, for the holding of a general election to the Assembly.”
Article 224(2) says, “When the National Assembly or a Provincial Assembly is dissolved, a general election to the Assembly shall be held within a period of ninety days after the dissolution…”
The PTI insists this constitutional provision be honored. It has pressured President Arif Alvi (a founding member of PTI) to use his constitutional powers and appoint the election date. But he was caught in a cleft stick when the Army told him not to make haste on the matter.
And yet with PTI’s push the President surprised the Army by declaring the date of the elections. On September 13, ignoring the Army’s advice, he wrote a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner proposing November as the poll month. President Alvi asserted his constitutional powers.
Surprisingly, the replies from the Election Commission and the Ministry of Law for a consultation meeting were identical! They sharply reminded the President that after the recent amendments by Parliament in the Election Act, the authority to declare the date of elections is the Election Commission’s. So the President’s consent has zero value in the matter.
There is no denying the fact that the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) majority Parliament with a motive to scuttle the constitutional power of the President (a PTI member) to appoint the election date. Simultaneously, it undermined the Supreme Court’s earlier order in the Punjab Assembly dissolution case to hold polls within 90 days because Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial was considered very friendly to Imran Khan. He objected to the amendment in the Election Act saying, “An act of
Parliament cannot supersede or bypass the country’s constitution which clearly states that elections are to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the Assembly.”
In 2015, the Supreme Court upheld Parliament’s power to establish military courts to try cases of terrorism. At that time the Court called Parliament ‘Supreme’ and admitted powerlessness before it. This case flowed from the killing of school children at Peshawar Public School on December 16, 2014. The terror was owned by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
PTI claims that the country’s economic problems will vanish once the elections are held. It is very sure of victory. But during its 44-month rule until April 2022, the party demonstrated no understanding of economics. Prime Minister Imran used the time to regale the citizens with stories of the corruption of the Sharifs and Zardaris. The country’s economy deteriorated during his rule. After his ouster from power, he vowed to jail his successor Shehbaz Sharif, and his son. While the elections are his ticket to comeback, he has angered the Army with the May 9 incident.
In London, the caretaker Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar said, “Free and fair elections can take place without Imran or hundreds of members of his party who are in jail because they engaged in unlawful activities, including vandalism and arson.”
Can the controversial elections truly help solve two main problems of Pakistan – Political Warfare and Economic slump? Doubtful! PTI chief Imran Khan and his party do not believe in reconciliation. The economy needs a miracle to come back to life. Almost 40 percent of Pakistanis are struggling in poverty, and the same percentage of children suffer stunted growth because of malnutrition. The next 20-30 years are unimaginable in Pakistan. On September 27, 2023, the Senate Standing Committee on Overseas Pakistanis was informed by the Overseas Ministry that 90 percent of beggars arrested in foreign nations are Pakistanis. Arrested also were a large number of Pakistani pickpockets. Understandably, money set home by them adds to the country’s foreign remittances.