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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday questioned how the Punjab government has dissolved the local bodies in the province before the expiry of their tenure.

A two-member bench, comprising Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Maqbool Baqar, heard the case related to local body elections in the country.

Justice Isa inquired why the local governments in the Punjab province were dissolved before the expiry of their term.

He asked whether the Punjab government would again dissolve the LG system, if another party gets a majority in the upcoming elections.

He asked the additional advocate general (AAG) to give reasons regarding the dissolution of the LG system in Punjab.

The AAG Punjab, Qasim Chohan, told the court that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government wanted to bring a new local government in accordance with its manifesto.

He said the matter was already pending with another bench and he requested the two-member bench to refer the matter to that bench.

The bench observed that the PTI Punjab government had “killed” democracy by the dissolving of local government system in the province before its expiry date.

“You killed democracy. It is unconstitutional. It’s worse than dictatorship,” said Justice Isa while addressing the AAG Punjab.

Justice Isa, referring to Article 6 of the Constitution, noted that it was a violation of the Constitution by the Punjab government.

He further said the Punjab government had done what was done in the then East Pakistan where people were disenfranchised.

The other member of the apex bench, Justice Baqar, wondered how the Punjab government could snatch away the mandate of people.

“The country is being destroyed in a systematic manner,” noted Justice Isa, added that the local body elections are a constitutional requirement.

Justice Baqar questioned: how long should the court stay silent over unconstitutional acts as well as the government's drive to curb media freedom.”

He added: “Those who want to remain silent, they should, but we will speak up as long as we can,” said Justice Baqar.

When the bench “hypothetically” asked Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan about the dissolution of any government before its expiry date, he admitted that no elected government should be packed unconstitutionally.

The AGP said he had always been against the toppling of elected governments through the then Article 58(2) of the Constitution.

During the course of hearing, both the judges also expressed their serious concern over the state-sponsored restrictions on media freedom.

Justice Isa asked the AGP whether the media was free in Pakistan.

The AGP preferred to remain silent.

Addressing media persons, who were present in the courtroom, Justice Isa said those who believe that media is free in Pakistan may raise their hands

None of media persons, however, raised his or her hand. Last year, four representatives of the Punjab local governments moved a constitutional petition in the Supreme Court against the dissolution of the local bodies system functioning under the Local Government Act, 2013.

Senior lawyers have been urging the apex court to pass a coercive ruling if it proved that the Punjab government dissolved the local governments in contravention of the law and Constitution.

Umer Gilani said the tenure of the elected local governments in Punjab was supposed to last till January 2022, according to the Punjab Local Government Act, 2013.

However, this tenure was cut short “unconstitutionally” by the Punjab Local Government Act, 2019, which sent packing around 50,000 elected representatives.

“Many of the deposed elected representatives, including my client Ahmad Iqbal Chaudhary, have challenged this dissolution before the Lahore High Court. We have contended that the dissolution of elected local governments in mid-tenure violates Article 140A,” Gilani contended.

The bench adjourned the proceedings until March 1st.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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