We can’t go back on election ruling, CJP responds to defence ministry

Political engagement is ongoing, AGP tells court

Top court rejects ‘not maintainable plea’ seeking to hold general elections simultaneously n Directs political parties to send their representatives in today’s hearing n May 14 deadline to stay if matter not resolved through political process: SC.

ISLAMABAD    -   Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Jus­tice Umar Ata Bandial Wednesday straightforwardly said that the top court would not go back on the ver­dict of holding elections in the Pun­jab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa prov­inces within 90 days and this matter cannot be postponed. 

The court also issued notices to the political parties asking them to send their representatives on Thursday (today) regarding the elections.

A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice of Pa­kistan Justice Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ijaz ul Ah­san and Justice Munib Akhtar con­ducted hearing of the application of the defence ministry and the peti­tion of Sardar Kashif Khan for hold­ing of election across the country on the same day.

At one point during the hear­ing on Wednesday, CJP Umar Ban­dial remarked that the Inter-Ser­vices Intelligence (ISI) chief and the Defence Secretary were also pres­ent in the briefing given to the top judges about the security situation in the country. He said that the offi­cials were told that this matter was not raised during the hearing. “Ev­eryone was told that [the matter] has been decided and we cannot go back on it,” the chief justice said. He fur­ther said the request by the ECP and the defence ministry is not sufficient to withdraw the directives. He said that the ECP had initially said that it would conduct polls if it was provided with funds. “Now, they are saying anarchy will spread in the country,” he said, adding that the electoral watchdog wished to open the whole case once again.

Commenting on the report submitted by the defence min­istry, the CJP said that it had a “strange” stance. “Can the min­istry of defence make a request holding elections simultane­ously in the country?” he asked, terming the ministry’s plea to be “not maintainable”.

The apex court warned that if the matter is not resolved through political process then May 14 date for the elections in Punjab and KP stays. The Chief Justice said that nothing IS mag­ical about October 8 deadline and added that the elections could be held sooner.

Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Usman Mansoor Awan informed that political engage­ment is going on as PPP Chair­man Bilawal Bhutto yesterday ((Tuesday) met with the PM. He told that the Prime Minis­ter has summoned the meet­ing of the PDM leaders, adding that the parties wanted to re­solve the present political im­passe through political process and over the course of 48 hours much development had taken place.

The AGP informed the bench, “I have spoken to the members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Committee, formed by the PM.” He said that Amir Jamat-e-Islami (JI) had met with the Prime Minister and a delegation of JI also met with Chairman Pakistan Teh­reek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan at Zaman Park. He added, “The engagement is going seriously at the top leadership level.” He asked the court to grant little time to come up with the solu­tion through political process.

Justice Bandial appreciated his statement, saying; “it is very well received.” However, Justice Bandial said there is constitu­tional mandate that the elec­tions should be held within 90 days and this matter can’t be postponed.

Advocate Shah Khawar, rep­resenting Sardar Kashif, argued as the Supreme Court order 4th April is not yet implement­ed, therefore, his client has filed this petition and made all the political parties as respondents. He said Ameer JI has taken up the task to resolve the political impasse through dialogue.

He said that the elections in all the four provinces and the Na­tional Assembly should be held in one day. There will be some complication if the Punjab and KP elections are held on May 14. He added soon after these elections the polls for the Na­tional Assembly and the other two provinces i.e. Balochistan and Sindh would also have to be held. He said this situation will create imbalance as at that time the Punjab and KP would have new government, while the other two provinces and at the Centre there will be caretak­er set up and there could be se­rious charges of meddle by the executive.

The Chief Justice remarked why no one on 27 March stated these facts, and asked the attor­ney general why he did not ar­gue on this point. He said that it seems both sides showing bona fide, commitment and confi­dence building measures so that the constitution provision is im­plemented.

Shah Khawar submitted that the Court has given an opportu­nity to the political parties to sit down and find the solution. He said that even today (Wednes­day) the court has hinted this, adding that if the political par­ties resolve the issue through political process then there will lesser burden on the armed and the civil forces.

The CJP said that 90 days’ deadline has passed, adding that it is mandatory. However, he noted that this matter con­cerned with the political jus­tice and the right of the people, which is achieved through po­litical parties. “We have asked the political parties to give as­surance, while one side (PTI) responded,” he said. The attor­ney general submitted that the political process outside the Su­preme Court should be given some time.

Justice Bandial said that the matters could not be delayed further since the Eidul Fitr hol­idays were near, and his fellow judges were of the opinion that the five days were enough to settle matters.

Justice Ijaz asked Faisal Chaudhry, a PTI lawyer, who was present in the courtroom to get specific instruction from the top party leadership in light of the submission made by Shah Khawar and the statement of the attorney general.

Earlier, the Court warned the government of “serious conse­quences” if it failed to release the funds required for conduct­ing polls in Punjab and KP.

At the outset, the bench called AGP at the rostrum and asked to read the finance ministry’s re­port out loud in the courtroom.

CJP Bandial remarked that the government had said that the funds required for conducting polls would be issued via a sup­plementary grant. “On the con­trary, the matter was sent to parliament,” he remarked.

Usman Mansoor submitted that the NA Standing Commit­tee on Finance and Revenue had referred the matter to the cabi­net and parliament. Justice Mu­nib asked how the government could be barred from approving a grant. He said that the prime minister should have a majority in the NA and that it was man­datory to have a majority in “fi­nancial matters”.

The attorney general replied that taking post-facto approv­al of the grant would have been “risky”, adding in the current case, there was sufficient time to seek the NA’s approval be­fore issuing the supplementary grant.

Justice Munib said that the fi­nance ministry’s team had in­formed the Court that approv­al for the supplementary grant could be sought later. He re­marked that how the supple­mentary grant could be reject­ed by the NA. Usman contended that the right to approve a sup­plementary grant lay with par­liament. He said that the NA had already expressed its opinion regarding the matter at hand through a resolution. 

However, Justice Munib ques­tioned if the government was serious, could it not have got­ten the supplementary grant approved? The AGP replied that if post-facto approval was not granted, then the expenses would be classified as “uncon­stitutional”.

Justice Munib asked the attor­ney general try to understand the matter as it is very serious that it is imperative for the pre­mier to have a majority in the NA. The chief justice remarked there was no previous instance of referring administrative mat­ters to the relevant standing committee. He added that the funds spent on election were a “necessary” expenditure. “It is expected that the government will review its decision,” he said, adding that the government should either decide or again refer the matter to the NA. The AGP was told to inform the gov­ernment regarding the court’s directives.

During the hearing, the Chief Justice also observed that the electoral watchdog had stat­ed that polls in Punjab and KP could not be conducted till Oc­tober. He further noted that the ECP had called for holding elections simultaneously in the country and had cited the secu­rity situation.

CJP Bandial said that several questions arose from the ECP’s stance. “Terrorism is ongoing in the country since 1992,” he said, noting that polls had been held in the country despite this. He observed that the situation was particularly sensitive in 2008, adding that ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinat­ed in 2007. He questioned what new danger there was for not holding polls in the country.

The AGP replied that in the past security forces had per­formed their duties at one time.

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