A date with democracy

We finally have a date for the next elections: February 8, 2024. On Thursday, the ECP gave February 11, 2024 to the Supreme Court of Pakistan as the date for the next general elections. This was during the hearing of pleas seeking timely elections in the country. The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), PTI and others had approached the top court against the delay in polls. A three-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice (CJ) Qazi Faez Isa, Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Amin-Ud-Din Khan ordered the ECP to consult President Dr Arif Alvi on the matter. An ECP delegation headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja met the president and a letter was also written to the president, proposing February 11, 2024 as the date for the general elections. Eventually, a consensus date was finally announced last night: February 8, 2024. This date will now be submitted in the top court today.

All parties more or less welcomed the announcement of the election date by the ECP in the apex court. This was an unnecessary controversy at a time when politics is already standing at a knife’s edge in the country. When the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies were dissolved earlier this year by the PTI government, elections were constitutionally stipulated to take place within 90 days. That did not happen, something that has rightly been called unconstitutional by more legal experts in the country. By the time elections take place, these two provinces will have caretaker setups that would have been in power for a year. This is a mockery of the democratic system. The caretaker setup in the centre and Sindh and Balochistan will also be in power for about six months when elections finally take place. One after the other crisis has upended Pakistan’s constitution and democracy for over a year now, one of these crises being the reinterpretation of Article 63A by the Bandial-led Supreme Court which started a constitutional crisis in the Punjab Assembly last year; the province has been in a flux ever since. It is unfortunate that these facts have to be reiterated to point out just why there has been so much political uncertainty and why so many had been asking for an election date by the ECP for months. Questions have also been raised as to why President Alvi chose not to give an election date despite it being his constitutional duty as per most legal experts and regardless of the ECP’s stand on this issue. But far more stern questions need to be asked of the ECP, the former PDM government, and the current caretaker government. When the former SC and the current SC both seem to be of the opinion that the president is the one who gets to call the election, why did we have to go through this avoidable drama in the first place?

This uncertainty will finally end today once a consensus date is submitted in the apex court. It must be welcomed despite the circumstances surrounding the delay in polls. Pakistan has seen enough political uncertainty and chaos to last it a lifetime but we have seen how such cycles repeat themselves quite often. Now that every political party is in election mode – with the PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif starting election campaign in a week or so – we will see some sort of political activity leading up to the elections. However, it also means that there will be a lot of questions asked about the legitimacy of the next government given that there are a lot of speculations about the electoral prospects of the PTI in the upcoming general elections. The follies of 2018 must not be repeated. We need a legitimately elected government with the clear and unadulterated mandate of the people.


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