The Supreme Court (SC) will on Monday resume hearing the PTI petition challenging the Election Commission of Pakistan’s decision to postpone polls in Punjab till Oct 8 as the coalition government has expressed “complete no-confidence” in the three-member bench conducting the proceedings.
The diminished bench — comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and Justice Munib Akhtar — will take up the case at 11:30am today.
Last week, the apex court witnessed high drama after the original five-member bench hearing the case was disbanded following the recusals of Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail and Justice Aminuddin Khan. Thereafter, the CJP constituted a smaller bench comprising himself, Justice Ahsan, and Justice Akhtar to proceed with the PTI petition.
During the previous hearing, the CJP rejected Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan’s request for the formation of a full court and directed him to bring the defense and finance secretaries in court along with him on Monday (today). He hinted that the court might even call the armed forces and issue directives for managing finances to hold elections in Punjab.
Justice Bandial also asked the top law officer to come up with good reasons that the court may accept, otherwise it was duty-bound to give a judgment.
Govt to urge SC to clear ‘ambiguity’
Meanwhile, in a meeting called a day before the crucial hearing, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif discussed possible outcomes of the case with the legal brains of the PML-N.
Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar briefed the participants about legal intricacies in the case and the chances of the three-member apex court bench fixing responsibilities for violation of its March 1 verdict — regarding elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — on Punjab polls.
About the strategy the ruling coalition would adopt during today’s hearing, PML-N leader Malik Ahmed Khan said they would first try to convince the court that it should clarify the “ambiguity” surrounding its March 1 order in the suo motu proceedings.
He said they would again demand that a full-court bench should be formed to hear the case to avert any controversy and if it was rejected, they would consider boycotting the court proceedings.
Last week, the ruling coalition at the centre, led by the PML-N, hinted that it would not accept the decision of the CJP-led bench hearing the case regarding provincial polls.
At a crucial huddle over the weekend, the federal coalition expressed “complete no-confidence” in the three-member bench, calling upon the court to discontinue the proceedings of the case forthwith.
PTI’s petition, moved by party’s Secretary General Asad Umar, former Punjab Assembly speaker Mohammad Sibtain Khan, former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Speaker Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani and ex-lawmakers of Punjab Abdul Rehman and Mian Mahmoodur Rashid, pleaded that the ECP’s decision violated the Constitution and tantamount to amending and subverting it.
In the petition, PTI sought directions for the federal government to ensure law and order, provisions of funds and security personnel as per the ECP’s need to hold the elections.
It also requested the court to direct the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor to announce the date for elections to the provincial assembly. Last week, KP Governor Ghulam Ali also proposed Oct 8 as the date for elections in the province. Earlier, he had announced May 28 as the date for polls.
The PTI questioned the ECP’s authority to “amend the Constitution” and asked how it could decide to delay elections to any assembly beyond the period of 90 days from the date of dissolution of the said assembly as mandated by the Constitution.
The petition argued that the ECP was bound to obey and implement the judgments of the Supreme Court and had no power or jurisdiction to overrule or review them.
In its March 1 verdict, the Supreme Court ordered to hold the election to the Punjab Assembly within 90 days and that the date be announced by the president. It also directed the authorities to provide funds and security personnel to ECP for the elections, the petition recalled.
The ECP cannot act in defiance of the Supreme Court’s directions as it has done in this case which was illegal and liable to be set aside, the petition pleaded. By announcing Oct 8 as the date, the ECP has delayed the elections for more than 183 days beyond the 90-day limit as prescribed in the Constitution.
The petition said that if the excuse of unavailability of security personnel was accepted this time, it would set a precedent to delay any future elections.
The petition added that there was no assurance that these factors — financial constraints, security situation and non-availability of security personnel — would improve by Oct 8.
The “so-called excuse” would mean the Constitution could be held in abeyance every time elections were due, the petitioners feared adding that in the past similar situations have persisted, but elections were held despite them.
These situations can’t be used as excuses to “subvert” the Constitution and deny people their right to elect representatives.
“Not holding elections in case of threats by terrorists will amount to giving in to the threats, which is in fact the aim of all terrorist activities,” the petition explained.