The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday summoned Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja and directed him to submit a report by tomorrow (Friday) on the obstacles standing in the way of timely conduct of elections in Punjab.
Hearing a petition against the transfer of Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Ghulam Mahmood Dogar, a two-member bench of the apex court comprising Justices Ijazul Ahsan and Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi summoned the CEC after being informed that Dogar had been transferred on the orders of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
Noting the Supreme Court had stayed any transfer orders for Dogar, Justice Ahsan questioned the ECP’s role in transferring government officials, with the Punjab advocate general saying permission was secured from the electoral body due to the imposition of a caretaker government in the province. “Half of Punjab has been transferred,” Justice Naqvi remarked. “Is there any district in Punjab where a transfer has not occurred?” Justice Ahsan followed up with: “Was the election commission not aware of the orders of the Supreme Court?” He said the ECP appeared to be doing everything except its own job and summoned CEC Raja “immediately,” pausing the hearing for an hour.
The hearing resumed around an hour later with the CEC appearing in court. During proceedings, Justice Ahsan noted that it was the electoral body’s responsibility to hold elections within 90 days of the dissolution of an assembly. He also maintained that a caretaker government could only make transfers or appointments if it provided concrete reasons for it and the ECP was “obliged” to issue appropriate orders after reviewing the reasons.
The CEC then responded: “If the court orders, we will stop the transfer [of the CCPO]. If we give the election date, it will be going against the Constitution,” he said, adding that acting on one Article of the Constitution might cause the violation of another. “I am being prevented from exercising my powers and constitutional requirements,” the ECP official lamented. “When I asked the Army for security, I was refused. When I asked the judiciary for permission, they refused it. I asked for money for the elections, I was refused that as well,” he said.
Stressing that the apex court would support him in fulfilling the ECP’s obligations to conduct elections, the bench then directed CEC Raja to submit a detailed report about the obstacles the electoral body was facing in holding the elections and adjourned the case till Friday (tomorrow).