Polls can only be put off by declaring emergency: CJP

News Desk
Wednesday, Mar 29, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision regarding the postponement of elections in Punjab was written in haste, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial remarked on Tuesday as five-member larger bench resumed hearing PTI’s petition challenging the electoral body’s decision.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had moved the Supreme Court following the electoral body’s decision to reschedule the Punjab Assembly’s elections from April 30 to October 8 after financial and security authorities expressed their inability to support the electoral process.

During the hearing, the CJP also remarked elections could only be postponed by declaring emergency, and asked if ECP’s decision recommended imposing an emergency.Over a scathing dissenting note a day earlier from Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail on the March 1 verdict on Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa elections, Justice Bandial remarked it was their “opinion” and had no link with the ongoing case.

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Bandial welcomed the newly appointed Attorney General of Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan, and said the court would need assistance of senior lawyer Farooq H Naek—who was also present in court—on the matter. The CJP remarked the court did not want to drag the matter. He said ECP’s jurisdiction as per Monday’s order would be seen by the court, while the request of the ruling coalition parties to become party in the case would be looked into later. The ruling alliance, earlier in the day had decided to become a party in the case.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) had filed the pleas in the apex court and wished to present their stance in Tuesday’s hearing.

“Rule of law and democracy are two sides of a same coin. There should be mutual tolerance, patience and law and order” the CJP observed.

Meanwhile, Naek interjected and told the bench they were also stakeholders in the case. The CJP assured the senior lawyer no one denied Naek’s importance but he believed they should not engage in a legal controversy. He said the parties had to decide the direction of the circumstances while the court had to keep the facts in view.

“On the March 1 verdict, my stance is that the law empowers the President to give a date for the elections. If you want clarification on the March 1 decision then file a separate petition,” said the CJP. He added the “simple question” in the case was whether the ECP can change the election date or not. “If ECP has the power then the matter will be resolved,” said the CJP.

On the other hand, the attorney general contended that if the court decision was 4-3, there was no order. He added if it was not a court order, the President could not give the election date. “The March 1 decision should be decided first,” said the AGP. Justice Bandial remarked right now the case was not about giving the election date but about the delay. He added elections were necessary for a democracy. “Two honourable judges gave a decision. It’s the opinion of those two judges but is not related to the current case. Do not bypass a sensitive matter,” the CJP remarked.

The AGP responded that the current petition was seeking the implementation of the court orders in the March 1 judgment. Justice Bandial remarked the bench members were there to review the questions raised in the petition. Apex court’s jurisdiction was not limited to just the petition, he added. On that point, AGP interjected and appealed for the formation of a full court on the matter.

“It is a request that this is an important matter and if the bench deems it appropriate then a full court should be formed,” said the AGP. However, Justice Mandokhail remarked the number of judges who favoured the March 1 ruling was an internal matter of the apex court. “Just tell if the Constitution requires conducting elections in 90 days or not, and whether the ECP can postpone the date of the election,” he asked. Upon hearing Justice Mandokhail, the CJP thanked the judge for clearing the matter.

PTI’s lawyer Ali Zafar maintained every institution had to work while staying in its constitutional bounds. The CJP remarked he expected the PTI’s senior leadership to have the same behaviour as expressed by the lawyer. He also asked the lawyer whether he talked to the senior party leaders.

“PTI would have to be the first [one to speak] because they have approached the court,” the CJP stated. He advised the parties of the case to avoid differences saying there was violence, intolerance and an economic crisis in the country.

Barrister Zafar maintained the crises would intensify if the elections were delayed. Justice Bandial remarked it would order the government only if the PTI takes the initiative.Justice Mandokhail lamented that no one cared about the Constitution in Pakistan anymore but elections have to be held under any circumstances.

Justice Akhtar remarked the finance secretary had said the funds for the election were not available now then how would they be available in the future, “which means that polls will never be held at all”. “How can a government secretary make such a fantastic statement?” questioned Justice Akhtar. The collected tax goes to federal consolidated funds, he added.

During the hearing, Justice Bandial suggested a cut in the judges’ salaries for the elections. “An entire budget is not needed for elections,” he added. “Our salaries can be cut for collecting Rs20 billion,” said the CJP, adding the government could save Rs20 billion by reducing expenses.The court adjourned the hearing till 11:30 am tomorrow (Wednesday).