President writes to PM; asks to direct authorities concerned to assist ECP for timely polls in provinces

Islamabad: President Dr Arif Alvi on Friday wrote a letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, emphasizing that all relevant executive authorities of federal and provincial governments should be directed to refrain from abuse of human rights and also to assist the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in holding general elections in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa within the given timeframe.

He said the holding of elections in the two provinces as per the timeframe, in compliance with the Supreme Court’s order dated March 1, 2023 was essential to avoid further complications, including contempt of court.

The president said he was writing the letter as events had taken place in the recent past involving glaring violations of fundamental and human rights that were highlighted by the print, electronic and social media and needed to be brought to the prime minister’s notice to ensure remedial measures and preventive action.

The president said the elections of provincial assemblies, in case of their dissolution under Article 105 or Article 112, were required to be held within 90 days under Article 224 (2) of the Constitution.

He added that the Supreme Court of Pakistan vide its order dated 1st March, 2023 had directed the ECP to propose date(s) to the president for holding the poll within 90 days or on a date that deviates to barest minimum from aforesaid deadline.

He said the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was also directed by the Supreme Court to appoint a date for holding the general election for the provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as per above timeframe.

Subsequently, the ECP had proposed holding of general elections between April 30 and May 7, 2023 and general elections for the Provincial Assembly of Punjab were announced to be held on April 30, 2023 and the same was notified by the ECP.

President Alvi said that it appeared that federal and care-taker governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa advised the heads of departments concerned to indicate their inability to provide the necessary support for holding general elections.

He referred to Article 220 of the Constitution which states that “it shall be the duty of all executive authorities in the Federation and in the Provinces to assist the Commissioner and the Election Commission in the discharge of his or their functions.”

He underlined that in his opinion, flagrant violation of the Constitution had been committed by the executive authorities and government departments, and that the ECP had not implemented his announcement of holding general elections in Punjab on 30th April, 2023 and also blatantly violated the Supreme Court’s order dated 1st March, 2023.

The ECP had announced the date of October 8, 2023 for holding general elections of provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the president said.

He wrote that it was a matter of concern that no meaningful consultation with the president on policy issues had been undertaken by the prime minister in line of Article 46 of the Constitution, which provided that “the prime minister shall keep the president informed on all matters of internal and foreign policy and on all legislative proposals the Federal Government intends to bring before the parliament”.

He added that Rule 15(5) of Rules of Business, 1973 also highlighted the responsibility of the prime minister, inter-alia, to furnish such information relating to the administration of affairs of the Federation and proposals for legislation as the president may call for.

In his letter, the president also drew the attention of the prime minister towards the seriousness of incidents of human rights violations, atrocities of police/law enforcement agencies and grossly disproportionate use of force against the citizens of Pakistan.

He said multiple fake and frivolous cases had been registered against politicians, workers, journalists and media persons; houses of political workers had been raided, and citizens had been abducted without warrants and lawful justification.

The president said the incidents of human rights violations and oppression by state machinery against innocent citizens were in “clear breach and violations of fundamental rights” guaranteed by Article 4 of the Constitution, that “provides for, and guarantees citizens to enjoy the protection of law and to be treated in accordance with the law”.

He also referred to Article 9 on ‘security of person’, Article 10 on ‘safeguards as to arrest and detention’, Article 10-A on ‘right to fair trial’, Article 14 on ‘inviolability of dignity of man etc.’, Article 15 on ‘freedom of movement etc.’, Article 16 on ‘freedom of assembly’, Article 17 on ‘freedom of association’ and Article 19 on ‘freedom of speech’, and said the spirit and mandate of these articles were being clearly transgressed.

“This has tarnished the image of Pakistan in the international community and is casting negative repercussions on the future of democracy and state of human rights in Pakistan,” he added.

President Alvi further highlighted that in the World Press Freedom Index of 2021, Pakistan ranked 145 out of 180 countries and dropped to 157 i.e., 12 points downwards in the World Press Freedom Index, 2022, which reflected the sorry state of affairs and “this year’s actions and images” would further exacerbate the country’s already dismal ranking.

He wrote that in recent months, media had been further suppressed and journalists had also been subjected to charges of sedition and terrorism to stifle dissent and criticism against the government. It appeared that a reign of terror had been unleashed against the media persons who had independent opinions, he added.

The president concluded that the prime minister, being head of the government, was responsible for the safeguard of human rights as well as fundamental rights of every citizen of Pakistan as enshrined in the Constitution, and therefore, all executive authorities concerned of federal and provincial governments should be directed to refrain from abuse of human rights and also to assist the ECP to hold general elections in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.