Justices Athar Minallah and Mansoor Ali Shah on Thursday raised questions on the dissolution of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, while Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail raised reservations over suo motu, as hearings commenced in a case related to fixing a date for elections in the provinces.
Led by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, who took suo motu notice of the issue a day earlier, a nine-member bench commenced hearings into the case. In addition to Minallah, Shah, Mandokhail and the CJP, the bench also includes Justices Ijazul Ahsan, Munib Akhtar, Yahya Afridi, Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, and Muhammad Ali Mazhar.
During the hearing, Justice Minallah remarked that prior to determining who is the relevant authority to announce the date for elections, the court should also examine whether the provincial assemblies were dissolved as per the Constitution or not. Justice Shah, similarly, questioned whether assemblies could be dissolved on someone’s “dictation.” Justice Mandokhail, meanwhile, raised reservations over the suo motu, noting the inclusion of two judges in the bench who had been the ones to advise the suo motu notice, thereby having already prejudged the matter.
Commencing the hearing, the CJP observed that the authority for giving the date of the elections after the dissolution of the assembly needs clarification. Noting that the Constitution was clear in polls taking place within 90 days of the dissolution of any assembly—as enshrined under Article 224(2)—he said Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman had maintained that as he did not dissolve the provincial assembly on the chief minister’s advice, he was not required to issue an election date. The suo motu, he said, would determine who has the authority to give the election date.
The court also noted that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had complained of not receiving required funds or security for polling. “The Supreme Court won’t tolerate the violation of the Constitution,” the CJP remarked, issuing a notice to the attorney general for Pakistan.
Reiterating a statement issued to announce the suo motu, the CJP observed that the court had to examine the timeframe of 90 days for elections under Article 224; the president’s authority to announce the date of polls; and determine who had the authority to announce the date. Noting the six weeks that had already passed since the dissolution of the provincial assemblies, he said, the proceedings would not be prolonged due to lack of time in ensuring polls before the passage of 90 days.
He then directed the parties to prepare their arguments for the next hearing, adding that all stakeholders would be heard.
At this, Justice Mandokhail expressed reservations regarding a suo motu notice in this case. “We have the petitions of the speakers of two assemblies. This suo motu notice was taken on the note of Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Mazahar Naqvi,” he said, noting their note resulted from them summoning the chief election commissioner in the case of Lahore police chief Ghulam Muhammad Dogar despite him not being a party in the case. CJP Bandial, in response, said some constitutional questions had arisen in petitions submitted by the speakers of both assemblies. “Supreme Court just has to look into the Constitutional point and ensure implementation on it,” he said.
Justice Mandokhail also mentioned “audios” in which Supreme Court Bar Association President Abid Zuberi was talking about the judges. “It doesn’t qualify to be a suo motu case in these circumstances,” he said. At this, Justice Minallah said that the court was discussing the constitutional clause in this case.
Justice Minallah also remarked that a suo motu notice should also be taken on the dissolution of provincial assemblies. “The Constitution defines a timeframe related to the election. It was much easier for us to fix the two petitions filed for the election but now the president has given the date,” said CJP Bandial, adding that it would be determined later if political parties needed to be called.
However, Islamabad High Court Bar President Shoaib Shaheen—a PTI supporter—argued that involving political parties would prolong the matter. “It would be beneficial for all if the decision on the suo motu notice orders holding of the elections,” he said. However, the judges disagreed and said political parties should also be included. Notices were then issued to them to appear in court during the hearing on Monday.