Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa on Friday warned against broadcasting reports casting doubt on the conduct of polls on Feb. 8, 2024, observing this will be considered a constitutional violation.
Dictating the order of proceedings as he disposed of petitions seeking timely elections, the CJP instructed Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan to ensure the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory (PEMRA) takes action against any channels broadcasting such news and analysis. “Let there be no misconception that we have given the date of the elections,” he stressed.
In his order, the CJP referred to a letter sent by President Arif Alvi to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Sept. 13, noting it had advised the electoral body to take guidance from the judiciary regarding polls. “According to the law and Constitution, the Supreme Court has no role in setting a date for elections,” he said, describing as “surprising” the president’s suggestion.
“The president could have taken guidance from Article 186 of the Constitution,” he said, which authorizes the president to seek guidance from the Supreme Court on questions of law. “Constitutional offices like the ECP and President of Pakistan should do what the Constitution says,” he said, stressing that following the Constitution was not an option. Regretting that the matter between the ECP and president was “unnecessarily brought to court,” he observed that the delay in issuing an election date had made the entire nation anxious. “There were also fears that elections won’t take place at all,” he said.
According to Justice Isa’s order, the court should not adopt the role of institutions. He said the SC had only facilitated the ECP and president in reaching consensus. Stressing that higher posts come with greater responsibilities, he said both the president and ECP were responsible for implementing the Constitution. “It is now time that we not just follow the Constitution but also look at the country’s constitutional history,” he said, lamenting that institutions and the public alike paid the consequences of violations to the Constitution.
Stating that the dissolution of the National Assembly following last year’s no-confidence vote had created a constitutional crisis, the CJP recalled that a judge had suggested the president should be tried under Article 6 (treason) of the Constitution for his role. “It is strange that the president used powers that he was not entitled to,” he said, adding Alvi had likewise failed to exercise his powers in not issuing an election date.
In its order, the court noted the ECP had issued a notification for the date of general elections and asked if anyone had any objections to the Feb. 8 date. “After all the requirements are fulfilled, the Election Commission should announce the election schedule,” he said after all parties said they had no objections. “God willing, elections will be held on Feb. 8,” he stated.
At the outset of today’s hearing, the AGP submitted to a three-member bench an ECP notification designating Feb. 8 as the date for polls. “The Election Commission of Pakistan in exercise of its powers under Article 57(1) of the Elections Act and all other powers enabling it in that behalf, hereby announces Feb. 8, 2024 as poll date for the general elections,” it read. The issue was resolved a day earlier during a meeting between President Alvi and Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja on orders of the Supreme Court, with both agreeing that polls should be conducted on Feb. 8.
During the hearing, the CJP directed the AGP to get the president’s signature on the minutes of the meeting held with CEC Raja, stressing that there should be no confusion that all parties had agreed to the date for polls. “Tomorrow, no party should say that they were not involved in the consultation process. If anyone wants to come from the President House, we will welcome him,” he remarked.
General elections were due to be held by Nov. 7; within 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly. However, the process was delayed following the notification of the fresh census, which had made it a requirement for the electoral body to conduct fresh delimitation of constituencies before proceeding to polls. Amidst mounting calls for a polling date, the ECP had said elections would take place in the last week of January 2024 but had not given a definitive date.
Subsequently, the PTI, SCBA and others had filed petitions in the SC seeking timely polls. The case was initially taken up on Oct. 23.