The Supreme Court on Monday took up a petition filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) seeking directions on conducting elections in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa “with the barest minimum deviation” from the 90-day deadline after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) postponed polls in Punjab from April 30 to Oct. 8.
Led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, a five-member bench comprising Justices Ijazul Ahsan, Munib Akhtar, Aminud Din Khan and Jamal Khan Mandokhail took up the petition that had been filed by the PTI last week. In its petition, the PTI had sought directions for the federal government to ensure law and order and provide funds and security personnel as per the ECP’s requirements. It also urged the court to order the KP governor to announce a date for elections in the province, arguing further that the ECP did not have the mandate to delay any elections beyond the constitutionally-mandated 90 days after the dissolution of an assembly.
In its petition, the PTI also maintained that the “excuse” of a lack of security personnel could set a dangerous precedent, adding that there was no guarantee that conditions would improve sufficiently by Oct. 8 to conduct elections then.
During Monday’s hearing, PTI lawyer Ali Zafar argued that contempt of court had been committed thrice. “When was the election schedule issued?” questioned the CJP and was informed it had been released on March 8. “The Election Commission did not have the authority to give a date for the elections,” noted Zafar, adding that while the president had announced April 30 as the date for polls in Punjab, the KP governor had refused to announce any date despite clear directions from the Supreme Court.
Noting that the apex court had ordered the ECP to fix a date for elections as the earliest possible date, Zafar maintained that setting a date several months in excess of the 90-day deadline was “contempt of court.” Arguing that the ECP had either changed or suspended the Constitution, he lamented that per the delay order, both the ministries of Interior and Defense had refused to provide security personnel. Arguing that the Constitution does not permit the postponement of elections on the basis of the administration’s non-cooperation, he questioned what guarantee there was that the situation would improve by October.
“What do you want from the Supreme Court?” Justice Mandokhail asked the PTI lawyer and was informed that the party wanted the apex court to ensure the implementation of the Constitution and its order. Justice Mandokhail then remarked that it was the high court’s job to ensure the implementation of orders, not the Supreme Court’s. “One high court cannot hear the matter of elections in two provinces,” said Zafar, adding that the Supreme Court had announced its ruling in line with its mandate.
Justice Munib Akhtar, at this, remarked that the ECP order had become an “obstruction” in the way of the apex court’s orders.
Only the Supreme Court, he maintained, could decide whether its orders were violated or not.
Here, the CJP asked if the ECP could set aside the poll date given by the president, noting there was no precedent on this matter. “We have several examples in our history where the date for elections has been extended,” he remarked, recalling that elections were also delayed after the death of Benazir Bhutto and the decision was accepted on a national level.
“Elections were also delayed in 1988 when the system of government changed,” he said, noting there had been no challenges to these decisions and the ECP had the right to alter an election schedule. “Elections in KP and Punjab are a matter of the fundamental rights of the people of the provinces,” he remarked, inquiring if there was any provision in the Constitution to determine the term of a caretaker government.
Justice Mandokhail, meanwhile, inquired if the date given by the president was within the stipulated 90-day deadline. He also questioned whether the short order issued by the Supreme Court on the elections could be considered a court decision.
The hearing was then adjourned until Tuesday morning, when it would resume at 11:30 a.m.