ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday reserved the judgment which will be announced today (Tuesday), against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s order to delay general elections in Punjab and to hold them on October 8.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, heard Punjab and KP and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) petitions.
The chief justice said; “The political side still has time to negotiate, and to settle rather to create yet another issue.” The apex court has to create balance, adding; “We are not rigid.”
The CJP noted that the situation is not only tense inside the courtroom, but outside of the court, as well. He said that the parliament could have lowered the temperature.
He said unfortunately there is no political dialogue; therefore, the case was brought to the Supreme Court. The burden is on the federal government to show that the obstacles would be attended to in the shortest possible time.
Justice Bandial told the government that it has to give the narrative, why is overwhelming. You (the government) would have to give an explanation, adding right now there is no explanation. We are not here to create difficulties or crises. “If sad incidents occur during the elections then the blame would come on the court.”
The political forces have responsibilities towards the people. Political dialogue needs to be initiated and commitment should be given to the Court; otherwise, the Constitutional mandate to hold elections within 90 days is very clear.
The bench noted that the president performs his functions on the advice of the prime minister, whether he is elected or caretaker PM. The chief justice then inquired from the lawyer of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Barrister Ali Zafar, how the president could unilaterally give a date for the elections in the Punjab Assembly. Ali was ordered to file a written note on it.
The bench said the ECP lawyer has shifted the entire burden on the finance and defence secretary that they are ready to perform its constitutional duty and to hold elections on April 30 if funds and security are provided to the Commission.
The bench did not allow the counsels of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarian (PPPP), and Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Pakistan (JUI-P) to make their submissions.
Justice Munib told them on the one hand the parties have announced to boycott proceeding, but their lawyers wanted to make a submission.
Farooq H Naek, representing the PPPP, said they have not boycotted the proceeding. However, Justice Munib said that the three parties have announced to boycott in a meeting. He asked the lawyer has he seen PML-N on Twitter. Justice Munib further told Naek that the parties are showing no-confidence on the bench. “How will you present your arguments if you don’t have confidence in us,” the judge asked. The court would only hear the counsel if they withdrew the statement. However, the counsel declined to do so.
Earlier, Attorney General for Pakistan Usman Mansoor Awan argued that the PTI’s petition was based on the SC’s March 1 verdict, in which, the apex court had instructed the president to select a date for elections in Punjab and the governor to appoint a date for polls in KP. He sought the dismissal of the PTI’s petition on the basis that 4–3 judgement.
The apex court had in a 3-2 verdict, ruled on March 1 that elections in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab — both of which have been under caretaker governments since the provincial assemblies were dissolved in January — should be held within 90 days.
The AGP contended that Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail in their joint note had raised objections on the constitution of the bench, as well as, the invocation of the apex court’s suo motu jurisdiction by the chief justice. He said that earlier, Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Athar Minallah, being members of the nine-member bench had dismissed the petitions.
Justice Munib stated that if the “logic behind the 4-3 verdict” were accepted, the matter would be referred to the same nine-member bench that was first constituted to hear the elections suo motu proceedings. The decision then would either be of the five-member bench or the nine-member bench, he added.
The attorney general asked the bench that before proceeding on the matter decide about the fate of a three-judge bench order, which was authored by Justice Qazi Faez.
“Even in 1988, elections were postponed on the orders of the court,” he recalled, adding that court orders were issued on the basis of “ground realities”.
The attorney general requested the formation of a Full Court to hear all his submissions. He asked the chief justice that if the Full Court is not constituted then at least form a bench comprising those who have not heard this case. The CJP told the AGP that the order you are referring to (March 1) has been implemented. Justice Ijaz said that the actual matter under consideration was the ECP’s decision to postpone elections, noting that the commission was bound to follow the court’s orders. Irfan Qadir, representing the ECP, also made the same submission. He further said that the elections of all the provincial assemblies and the National Assembly should take place on one day in order to save financial and other sources.
During the hearing today, the secretaries of the finance and defence ministries briefed the court and submitted their respective reports.
The AGP told the court that the matter was sensitive and required an in-camera hearing to which the CJP directed Awan to submit the relevant files in court, saying that the bench would analyse them.
Justice Bandial remarked that the matter concerning security was not just limited to the army but also the navy and the air force, saying that when the armed forces were busy, help could be sought from the other two or the reservists.
“The ECP says 50pc of the polling stations are safe. Every unit or office in the army is not for battle. The court has to do what can be done in an open court,” he said, noting that if “any sensitive thing comes forward”, the judges will hear it in the chamber.
The CJP also inquired about the exact number of security personnel required during the polls, to which, Awan responded that everything was “on record” and that the ECP had given reasons for its decision.
The CJP asked Defence Secretary Lt Gen Hamooduz Zaman (retd) that they were asking him to provide the sensitive information. “Tell us the overall situation. For now, give us (information) about Punjab because there is no (election) date for KP,” he noted.
“Are the security conditions in Punjab serious,” he asked the defence secretary, to which he said, “Yes”. “I cannot tell the details in an open court (as) we do not want the details to reach the enemy,” Gen Zaman said, to which, the CJP said that the report could be submitted in an envelope. Additional Finance Secretary Amir Mehmood explained that the Planning Commission releases funds as per the Public Sector Development Programme (PDSP). Talking about this fiscal year’s budget, he said that no cut was placed on the development funds. “New taxes were imposed to collect billions.”
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023