ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court directed Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja to submit a detailed report about obstacles the Commission is facing in holding elections.
A two-member bench comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, which heard a petition against the transfer of Ghulam Mahmood Dogar as the Lahore capital city police officer (CCPO), on Thursday on short notice, summoned the CEC to explain reasons for not holding elections.
Appearing before the bench, he submitted: “I am being prevented from exercising my powers and constitutional requirements.” “When I asked the army for security (for the elections), I was refused. When I asked the judiciary for permission, for returning officers they refused it. I asked for money for the elections, I was refused that as well.”
Earlier, during the hearing, Justice Ijaz inquired from the AAG Punjab why despite the apex court’s orders the CCPO was transferred. “What was the rush to transfer Ghulam Mahmood Dogar,” he asked. The AAG informed Dogar was transferred with the permission of the election commission a second time.
Dogar as the Lahore CCPO was at the centre of a tussle between the federal government and the then Punjab government under Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. Dogar booked PML-N leaders in cases and headed the Wazirabad JIT which was probing the attempted assassination of Imran Khan. The Centre tried recalling him, which was blocked by the Punjab government. It ultimately suspended Dogar, but he was reinstated by the top court.
Justice Ijaz then asked: “What is the role of the election commission to transfer officers?” Justice Mazahar remarked that the ECP’s role came after the announcement of the elections. The AAG said; “Due to the caretaker setup in Punjab, permission was taken from the election commissioner.”
“According to the Constitution, elections are to be held within 90 days after the caretaker setup,” he added.
Justice Ijaz asked “where the election is?” Justice Mazahar remarked that half of the Punjab was transferred. He asked is there any district in the Punjab where a transfer has not occurred.
Justice Ijaz then asked: “Was the election commission not aware of the orders of the Supreme Court?”
“The election commission is doing everything except its own job,” he remarked.
The court then summoned CEC Raja “immediately”, pausing the hearing for an hour. About an hour later, the CEC appeared in court and the hearing resumed.
Justice Ijaz observed, “The Constitution obliges to hold elections within 90 days. It is the election commission’s responsibility to hold elections. Not holding the elections within the stipulated time will be going against the Constitution. There is no ambiguity within the Constitution about holding elections within 90 days. Holding transparent elections is only the election commission’s responsibility.”
The CEC said that according to the Constitution and Election Act, 2017, either the president or the governor has to give the dates for holding elections.
Justice Ijaz further said, “Caretaker government cannot make appointments and transfers”, adding if it intended to make a transfer, it should “submit a request with concrete reasons”. The ECP was “obliged to issue an appropriate order after reviewing the reasons”.
To this, the CEC responded, “If the court orders, we will stop the transfer (of the CCPO). If we give the election date, it will be going against the Constitution.” “If we act upon one article of the Constitution, it leads to the violation of another article,” he added. The attorney general informed the court that the government is waiting for the Lahore High Court’s verdict regarding the elections.
The case was adjourned until today (Friday) and a three-member bench will take up the matter.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023