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Wednesday, July 17, 2024  
11 Muharram 1446  

SC: Election Commission’s delay not legal, Punjab polls on May 14

The top court resumes hearing on election delay case; Govt lawyers shun reports of boycott
An outside view of the Supreme Court of PakiStan. PHOTO FILE
An outside view of the Supreme Court of PakiStan. PHOTO FILE

Highlights

  • Court says ECP exceeded its jurisdiction by delaying elections
  • Court directs the government to assist ECP, sets deadlines
  • Government expresses ‘regret’ over the decision
  • PTI says the Constitution has been held
  • Nawaz Sharif demands action against three judges
  • ECP calls meeting to discuss SC verdict

The Supreme Court of Pakistan struck down the Election Commission’s order of March 22, and said that elections for the Punjab Assembly should be held on May 14.

The Supreme Court has said KP, Punjab elections must be held according to the Constitution within 90 days and should have been held on April 30 as set by the president. However, due to the delay after the ECP’s order, the date has now been set on May 14.

The court has thus nullified an earlier Election Commission of Pakistan issued on March 22 that said that due to issues in financing and security, elections in Punjab would be held much later on October 8.

“The impugned order dated 22.03.2023 made by the Election Commission of Pakistan is declared to be unconstitutional, without lawful authority or jurisdiction, void ab-initio, of no legal effect and is hereby quashed,” the judgement reads.

The 90-day deadline would end on April 30. And so the court said that the Punjab elections can be held by May 14.

The SC issued this timeline or schedule for the Punjab elections:

  • May 14 Punjab election
  • April 10 Returning Officers will collect nomination papers

The court has also ordered the federal government to issue Rs 20 billion to the ECP by April 10 and asked for a report to be submitted on April 11 regarding the issuance of funds.

The order also says that the caretaker governments should provide a detailed plan about the elections to be conducted and provide sufficient personnel for the organisation of the elections.

The ECP has also been told to approach the court again if the federal government does not provide the required assistance.

The court also put the matter of the 3:2 or 4:3 matter to rest by saying that the understanding of the matter was erroneous.

“Respectfully, the position as claimed by the learned Judges in minority is erroneous and not sustainable in law.”

This judgement was given on a set of PTI petitions. The PTI challenged the Election Commission’s decision to delay elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for almost five months. The Supreme Court met despite the government demanding it hear these petitions with a full set of SC judges (or full bench).

At the outset of the hearing, in response to questions from the judges, the attorney general of Pakistan and other government lawyers rejected the reports that the government was going to boycott the court proceedings.

At one point during the proceedings, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Umar Ata Bandial remarked that only the Supreme Court, and not the ECP, could extend the election date.

Outside the court, lawyers in Islamabad were trying to gather to hold a protest demonstration in support of the CJP. However, the top judge did not grant a PTI request to remove barricades that the Islambad police has placed in the federal capital.

PTI says Constitution has won

Speaking outside the court after proceedings ended, PTI’s Ali Zafar said that the three-member bench had given a historic judgement and upheld the constitution.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi added that Justice Bandial had walked in the footsteps of Justice Cornelius and buried the doctrine of necessity for good.

‘Murder of justice,’ Shehbaz on SC verdict

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif described the Supreme Court verdict ordering elections in Punjab on May 14 as a ‘murder of justice’.

Addressing the National Assembly a few hours after the court issued the verdict, Shehbaz said that the decision had come on the day of the ‘judicial murder’ of former PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and was yet another travesty of justice.

“No condemnation is enough,” Shehbaz added.

“It will deepen the country’s crisis,” Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar told a news conference.

Meanwhile, a meeting of the federal cabinet under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has rejected the Supreme Court’s verdict ordering elections in Punjab on May 14, sources said on Tuesday afternoon.

Reports said that the cabinet said that the decision was not ‘actionable’.

The cabinet has also decided it will use the parliament’s floor to raise its voice against the decision.

ECP calls meeting to discuss SC verdict

The Election Commission of Pakistan has called a meeting to discuss how to proceed in light of the Supreme Court verdict that ordered elections on May 14.

The meeting will be held in Islamabad on Wednesday around 11am.

With the government taking up a defiant posture, and secretaries of finance and interior telling the court the same thing that they told the ECP, the commission will now have to decide how to implement the court’s orders.

Nawaz Sharif demands action against three SC judges

A judicial reference should be filed against the three Supreme Court judges, who fixed May 14 as the election date for Punjab Assembly, PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif said on Tuesday.

“How a person [CJP] should be allowed to become prime minister, defence minister, interior minister, chief election commissioner, Parliament, and government,” he said at a press conference in London.

The former premier described the whole Supreme Court proceedings as a “drama”, which had engulfed the country. Without naming PTI chief Imran Khan, he alleged that all such attempts were made to bring a man to power.

Since Punjab has a large population, the results from the province in elections are considered as a decider in the country.

Sharif went on to term the SC decision as “double standards”, claiming that he was evicted in a minute from the power for not holding a permit, Iqama.

“I don’t know what we did as someone is removed and someone is brought [to the power] and someone is given a life sentence, he said and alleged that the doctrine of necessity was brought for dictators while prime ministers like him were apparently treated badly. “Dictators are hugged and worn garland and those who broke the Constitution are given rights to amend the Constitution.”

Sharif was of the view that the apex court decision has paralysed the government and Parliament. “There is no writ of the state,” he said and wondered how Parliament would run its business after the verdict.

But he stressed that the august house should assert itself if Pakistan “has to survive” and questioned why such things were not happening in other countries.

He recalled that a doctrine of necessity was applied in 1953. “Is it only for dictators? And is it only being used for dictators? We are only seeing that only elected governments are removed time after time. I am talking about those judges who have played this role. The three-judge bench is not accepting the decision of four judges.”

Sharif said: “This is not a decision and as per judges, this is a one-man show. Is this done for a ladla this is very sorrowful. This is the very painful situation from which we are going. I think a reference should be filed against these three judges and this decision is the charge sheet against these judges.”

He wondered why a full court was not formed despite demand from many circles.

Govt demands reconstitution of bench

The PTI petitions against the ECP decision were filed in the second week of March and the SC formed a five-member bench that started the proceedings last Monday, that is on March 27.

However, two members of the bench, Justice Aminuddin Khan and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokehl, recused themselves from the case, voicing their concerns about the proceedigns.

Despite the recusal, the CJP decided to continue with the hearing with the three remaining judges. The three-member bench now included CJP Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and Justice Munib Akhtar.

On Sunday, the federal government submitted its reply in the Supreme Court seeking the reconstitution of the bench hearing the election delay case.

Attorney General of Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan filed the plea, saying the proceedings in the instant petition may kindly be postponed in light of the order passed by Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

The government reply also said that Justice Ijazul Ahsan had already refused to hear the case and in the first round, the decision of election was given by a majority of 4-3. The Chief Justice and Justice Muneeb Akhtar were part of the bench that gave the decision hence they should not hear the case, he said in the petition.

Hearing on Monday

When the court met on Monday, Farooq H Naik from the PPP, Kamran Murtaza from JUIF, and Akram Sheikh from the PMLN approached the rostrum taking turns. CJP Bandial and Justice Munib Akhtar questioned if the government had boycotted the court proceedings as newspaper reports indicated.

The lawyers representing the ruling parties said they had not boycotted the court proceedings though the government had some reservations.

The CJP told them to give in writing that there was no boycott.

The top judge also asked the attorney general what directions he had from the government.

The attorney general said that the government could not boycott the proceedings. This is what we expected from a serious attorney general, said the CJP.

The attorney general said that the government was working according to the constitution and it was seeking an extension in the election date.

CJP Bandial said the question before the court was whether the ECP could extend an election date. “The law does not allow anyone to postpone an election. Only the court can extend the election date,” he said.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan said that the core issue was the ECP order and if that order is upheld all the petitions would die.

The CJP rejected the attorney general’s contention that court orders were not issued at the end of hearings on several days last month.

What law manded the issuance of court orders? he questioned and then added that consultation among judges is never made public, only the court proceedings are public.

Justice Munib Akhtar said that if the logic about 4-3 judgment is accepted then you will have to accept that it was a nine-member bench. The matter was either decided by a nine-member bench or a five-member bench, he said.

The attorney general said that it must be decided whether the March 1 judgment to hold elections in Punjab and KP within 90 days was a majority judgment or a minority judgment. The solution lies in the constitution a new bench that does not include judges who have already heard the case, he said.

Justice Akhtar responded by saying that the court had noted his point.

The attorney general next raised the issue of a court judgment issued by Justice Faez Isa against taking suo motu notices. He argued that a circular was used for quashing the judgment and that such a practice was not lawful.

CJP Bandial said that no circular had been used to withdraw any judgment. There is no clear order in the judgment passed by Justice Isa, he said.

During the exchange, the judges also referred to the suo motu notice they took at the start of this year“ — a veiled reference to suo motu proceedings that resulted in the passage of a no-trust vote for the removal of Imran Khan as the prime minister.

CJP Bandial said that the government could demand a larger bench but it cannot seek the constitution of a full bench for which the court had already rejected a plea on Friday.

The top judge also revealed that he had held meetings with the senior judges over the weekend. He said he would welcome arguments seeking the constitution of a larger bench.

The court next sought a briefing from the finance and defence secretaries who were present in the court.

Justice Bandial told Defence Secretary Lt Gen (retd) Hamood uz Zaman Khan that the court would not ask him to reveal sensitive information but he could provide an overview of the security situation in Punjab.

The defence secretary described the security situation in the Punjab province as “grave.”

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Nawaz Sharif

Shehbaz Sharif

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