Why don’t the leaderships on both sides of the national political divide look around – how can they be so indifferent to the sufferings of people? The country is on the verge of default, terrorists are on a rampage shedding innocent blood and inflation walks tall with stagflation becoming a reality. Unfortunately, however, this slide is of no concern to the political elite of Pakistan. That the political elite is at each other’s throats is another fact. Now the foremost issue for them is the matter of dates for elections to the assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) wants elections within constitutionally mandated 90 days; its stance motivated by the general perception that it is more popular among the masses now than ever before. Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) believes that given its failure on economic front and high inflation it should delay elections for as long as possible. While the PDM has used the provincial governors as its weapon of choice, the PTI’s fight is led by President of Islamic Republic of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi, and the law of the land on who is right and who is wrong is ambiguous and thereby exploitable by both sides of the political aisle. The governor of Punjab has taken the position that since he didn’t dissolve the assembly, therefore he wouldn’t be able to give date of the election. But the date - April 9 for elections to both the provincial assemblies – has been set by the president as he thinks he has the legal authority to announce date under the Elections Act 2017. While the governor’s stance smacks of partisanship the president’s so-called authority to fix the date is contingent upon conditions that he should do so following consultations with the Election Commission of Pakistan and act in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or the prime minister. The president didn’t do so and unilaterally fixed the elections date, provoking a stiff rebuke by the PDM leadership. Reacting to president’s move, Defence Minister Khwaja Asif accused him of abrogating the Constitution by giving date for elections to the provincial assemblies, as against the president’s take that he is under oath to preserve, protect the Constitution under Article 42 read with the Third Schedule of the Constitution.

Both sides claim to be legally correct in positions they have taken on the issue of date for elections to the assemblies. In our view both are insensitive to the interest of the country as their political rivalry tends to weaken the State, which is presently confronted with a host of grim challenges. The need of the hour is a united country jointly committed to restoration of normality and political stability. Given the complexity of law on the question of elections to dissolved elected houses, as is presently the case in Pakistan, the courts too may not find it easy to give a verdict which would satisfy everybody, and in return they may earn the blame of partiality. Ideally, the issue of date for elections should have been tackled via consultations in the spirit of give and take. Being the head of state and symbol of unity of the federation, the President was ideally suited to lay the table for a meeting of both sides of the political divide on the issue of date for polls – even when Sheikh Rashid wanted him to “either announce date or resigns”. His office has done nothing to aid national unity, which should have taken priority over all political, economic, social and cultural differences or fissures.