ISLAMABAD - The election commission has unanimously decided to reject the government’s request for changing the polling date for presidential election, and the chief election commissioner will hold a final meeting with his associates on Monday before formally returning the summary to the law ministry, it is learnt.

The PML-N government had asked the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for earlier polling, saying that a number of lawmakers would not be available on the set election date of August 6 due to their ‘religious engagements’ in the last 10 days of Ramazan.

Talking to The Nation, CEC Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim said that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had made a decision while some formalities were yet to be performed before returning the summary to the government. “Our decision is pretty clear. There has to be a solid justification for making a request to change the polling date for the president’s election,” he said.

“In this particular case, I’m afraid, any justifiable rationale is missing.” The CEC confirmed to hold a meeting with the ECP members on Monday. “We’ll have a final word and then our decision would be sent to them (government). It’s better to do proper consultations before making any decision official. We can’t change the polling date just like that unless it’s really required.”

Reportedly, Justice (r) Riaz Kayani, one of the ECP members, is of the view that the commission should formally meet to discuss the related constitutional provisions before officially returning the summary. Kayani is also said to have recommended holding discussion on Article 41 (4) and Article 254, the two articles that attract application regarding particular scenario involving change in the presidential election date.

Apart from his recommendations, Justice (r) Riaz Kayani as well as the other three members, Justice (r) Roshan Essani, Justice (r) Shahzad Akbar Khan and Justice (r) Falz-ur-Rehman have reportedly opposed changing the date of the presidential poll date and supported rejecting the government’s summary.

In exercise of its powers as per Article 254, the ECP can fix the presidential election polling date beyond the constitutionally prescribed deadline of August 10. According to this article, “When any act or thing is required by the constitution to be done within a particular period and it is not done within that period, the doing of the act or thing shall not be invalid or otherwise ineffective by reason only that it was not done within that period.”

In exercise of the same article, the ECP had changed the schedule for the general elections 2008 after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 and the schedules for certain by-elections held in 2010 and 2011 were amended as well, on account of flash floods during those years.

The CEC says that the commission’s powers on choosing any date for presidential election are not under question. “That’s not the issue in discussion. The constitution grants us absolute powers to choose any date we deem necessary under given circumstances. The real issue is: Why should we change the date without a perfect explanation for doing so? And that’s what we’re going to tell them (government) that the date’s been finalised and they should respect the ECP decision and comply with it,” he told this correspondent.

In the light of Article 41 (4), the presidential election has to be held before August 10 considering that the tenure of President Asif Ali Zardari expires on September 8. The said article says, election to the office of president shall be held not earlier than sixty days and not later than thirty days before the expiration of the term of the president in office: Provided that, if the election cannot be held within the period aforesaid because the National Assembly is dissolved, it shall be held within thirty days of the general election to the assembly.

In a letter from the Secretary Law Justice (r) Muhammad Raza Khan to the Secretary ECP Ishtiak Ahmad Khan on Friday, followed by a related summary sent to the CEC for approval, the former had requested for the change in presidential election polling date while citing ‘religious engagements’ of lawmakers in last ten days of Ramazan. The letter had suggested that the polling may be held on an early date while the rest of presidential poll schedule may be kept unchanged.