Pakistan lawyer body announces strike on Sept 14 to ‘defend Constitution’, demands elections within 90-day time

The calls for strikes come as various stakeholders take differing stances on when general elections will be held.


The calls for strikes come as various stakeholders take differing stances on when general elections will be held. PHOTO: DAWN

September 8, 2023

ISLAMABADThe All Pakistan Lawyers Convention convened by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) in Islamabad announced on Thursday that lawyers will observe a countrywide strike on September 14 to “defend and uphold the Constitution, rule of law, and human rights”.

A statement issued by the SCBA after the convention said lawyers across the country would hold peaceful protests within their respective bar associations in the form of rallies on September 14.

Earlier today, the SCBA also released a list of resolutions passed at the convention, including the demand to hold the general elections “within the constitutionally prescribed time frame of 90 days of the dissolution of the assemblies”.

Earlier this week, the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) also passed a resolution, urging President Arif Alvi to “fulfil your constitutional responsibility” and announce a date for general elections — which are to be pushed beyond the constitutionally mandated cutoff date of November 9 if the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) sticks to its timeline for fresh delimitation of constituencies.

Addressing a press conference outside the Supreme Court, PBC Chairman Hassan Raza Pasha had also announced a countrywide strike of lawyers on September 9 for the fulfilment of this demand.

The calls for strikes come as the president, ECP, political parties and other stakeholders take differing stances on the time frame for holding general elections and who has the authority to decide the final poll date.

The ECP has ruled out elections this year, while the 90-day limit for holding polls following the dissolution of the National Assembly (NA), as mandated under Article 224 of the Constitution, ends on November 9.

It reasons its decision to push elections beyond November 9 on the basis of the notification of results of the new digital 2023 census and Section 17(2) of the Elections Act, which states: “The commission shall delimit constituencies after every census is officially published.”

However, President Alvi invited Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja last month for a meeting to “fix an appropriate date” for general elections.

In his letter to the CEC, the president quoted Article 244 of the Constitution, saying he was duty-bound to get the elections conducted in the 90 days’ prescribed period as the NA was dissolved prematurely on August 9.

But a recent amendment to the Elections Act 2017 empowered the ECP to announce the dates for polls unilaterally without having to consult the president.

Citing this change to the law, the CEC responded to the president, saying that participating in a confab with him to decide the election date would be of “scant importance”.

Subsequently, the president sought the law ministry’s advice on the matter, and the ministry communicated to the president that the powers to announce the poll date rested with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) after he sought its advice on the matter.

Two days ago, the president discussed matters pertaining to elections with caretaker Law Minister Ahmed Irfan Aslam and stressed the need to make decisions “in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution”.

Asserting the stance, lawyers’ convention convened by the SCBA adopted a resolution today, stating: “The general elections are required to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the assemblies … and the Election Commission of Pakistan and all other institutions required to act in aid of the ECP are under constitutional duty to do so.”

The resolution also highlighted that no caretaker government could “go beyond 90 days and becomes unconstitutional and illegal subsequently”.

The caretaker governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have already become unconstitutional and are liable to be removed, it added.

The resolution further stressed the importance of “civilian supremacy, the rule of law, and the independence and integrity of constitutional institutions as fundamental pillars of our democracy”.

It underlined that “the armed forces and their officials of all ranks are bound by their constitutional oath not to indulge in any political activity whatsoever”.

Moreover, “the government or any of its institution or officials should not be allowed to induce, pressurise or influence any judge for obtaining desired judicial verdicts”, it said, adding that those found attempting to make such a demand should be strictly punished under the law.

It further said that all citizens “being kept in custody of military or intelligence agency be transferred to the custody of the relevant civil law authorities for their presentation before civilian courts”.

Specifically mentioning the arrest of females in the recent times, the resolution said “all arrests, detentions and harassment of ladies for the last few months or so are strongly condemned and those found responsible for such acts be punished under the law.”

It also condemned the “harassment of advocates performing their professional duties”.

Addressing concerns about the country’s economic situation, the convention proposed a solution to the ongoing challenges.

It said: “This convention acknowledges the gravity of the economic situation and invite all stakeholders to engage in constructive dialogue to find solutions to address economic depression, offering the forum of the SCBA for such discussions.”

The statement also underlined that the resolution passed by the All Pakistan Lawyers Convention was to affirm lawyers “unwavering commitment to justice, democracy, and the well-being of our nation”.

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