The clear violation of the Constitution of Pakistan by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) through its act of delaying scheduled elections for Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) legislative assemblies has given a final blow to the political dispensation of the country as the ruling alliance has ostensibly demonstrated it is not willing to run the country democratically. The situation is going to have not only seriously negative consequences for democracy and the political system of Pakistan but also the federation and the country.
The March 22 illegal and unconstitutional declaration by the ECP to put off scheduled elections for the Punjab Assembly to be held on April 30 and for the KP Assembly on May 28, to October 2023 suggests that the constitutional bodies, like the ECP, and executive authorities are not ready to abide by the Constitution to which these authorities owe their existence and powers. The ECP has declared that as the government and its affiliated departments are not ready to provide security and funds to it, it is impossible for it to hold elections. Constitutionally, the ECP is an independent body and it has all powers to force all state and even non-state institutions to assist it in holding fair, free and most importantly timely elections in the country and provinces. This is the very justification and task of the ECP. The mala fide of the ECP has been very much evident as it had informed the Supreme Court of Pakistan last year in April that it was not ready to hold elections within the stipulated 90 days if the National Assembly and provincial assemblies were dissolved. It had then stated that it would be in position to hold elections within six months. Although then the NA and provincial assemblies were not dissolved and the government was changed through an in-house voting in the NA, but even then the position of the ECP was unconstitutional.
The current decision by the ECP is that as the country is facing a serious law and order situation and economic crisis, it is impossible to hold elections now. This position of the ECP is reflective of the desire of the 13-party ruling alliance which has time and again stated that it does not want elections immediately. But this would have serious consequences for the chief election commissioner and other members. References are most likely to be tabled in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) against Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja for breaching the Constitution resulting in his ultimate removal and this would be a very substantial reference.
At the same time, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which has already ordered the ECP to hold elections as per announced schedule and that too in a transparent way, is going to ask the commission to take action against the federal and caretaker provincial governments for not assisting it in holding elections in time. In this situation, either the ECP would take action, as provided by the Constitution, against any state entity refusing to assist it or else its members would have to resign. Otherwise, the Supreme Court of Pakistan could disqualify Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, which is the chief executive of the country, for not providing support to the ECP. It would be really disastrous and unfortunate for the country as well as the prime minister, which one reckons is being made a scapegoat by unseen forces for their unconstitutional agenda. However, an SC action against the ECP and governmental authorities impeding free and fair elections in Punjab and KP would be necessary to maintain the constitutional order in the country.
It is important to note that the ECP should have referred the matter of non-cooperation by the government and its institutions to the court and it should not have extended the date of elections in Punjab and KP by six months. There is no power at all with the ECP to give dates for elections as it could only suggest it to the President of Pakistan in the case of the National Assembly and the respective governor of the province but those dates too would be within the 90 and 60 days as provided by the Constitution. The 90 days are in case an assembly is dissolved before time and 60 days if it completes its tenure. Giving the exact date and that too after six months is an unconstitutional act and this would be turned down by the SC. Otherwise, every sitting government would use it as a precedent not to hold elections.
A very important question is that the ruling alliance wants elections for Punjab, KP, the rest of two provincial assemblies and the National Assembly must be held on the same day. Otherwise, there would be bloodshed in the country and no party would accept their results. Holding elections on the same day for all legislative assemblies is indeed not entirely good that could be wished but in the constitutional scheme of things it is not necessary. In the parliamentary political system of Pakistan, which is even bereft of its true essence, holding elections for different assemblies at different times is not at all illegal and strange. In fact, holding elections for different provincial assemblies and the National Assembly is the test of the maturity of our political system and democracy. Even we are shying away from things that are very democratic. If the ruling alliance still wants to hold elections for the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies simultaneously then it could do so constitutionally by dissolving the NA and other two provincial assemblies, where they have governments and then bring a constitutional amendment along with the out-of-NA Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to hold elections, say in 120 days across Pakistan.
The most sordid aspect of the ongoing political, constitutional and social crisis in Pakistan is that the ruling alliance has attempted to malign the supreme judiciary of Pakistan. Suspected audio leaks of judges by unidentified people were played in press conferences and public meetings of the ruling alliance leaders and more dangerously the allegations of PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz against some SC judges also showing their pictures on huge screens is a direct attack on the superior judiciary of Pakistan. The ruling alliance, in particular its largest party, PML-N, whose founder and three-time prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was disqualified for corrupt practices by the court, has been on the forefront in its verbal attack on the superior judiciary. This obviously is aimed at intimidating the judges of the supreme judiciary. It is a historical opportunity for the SC to cleanse the Augean Stables and fix all things by sticking to the Constitution of Pakistan and punish all those which it deems to have violated it.