ECP has no power to extend Punjab poll date: CJP

ISLAMABAD    -    Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Umar Ata Bandi­al Tuesday said that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has no power to extend the date of Punjab Assem­bly elections.

A five-member bench of the apex court headed by Justice Bandial and comprising Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan, and Justice Ja­mal Khan Mandokhail conducted hearing of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-In­saf (PTI) petition to set aside the ECP order dat­ed 22-03-23 to delay the Punjab elections.

During the hearing, the chief justice said that it seemed that the ECP order dated March 22 was written in haste. 

Justice Jamal said that even if the apex court strikes down the ECP order, and then questioned what will be the fate of the date of the elec­tions announced by the Pres­ident (30th April) after the judgement two judges.

Onset of the proceedings, AGP Mansoor Usman Awan raised questions over the maintain­ability of the PTI’s petition. He argued that matters related to the elections should be re­ferred to the Lahore High Court after the two apex court judg­es issued their detailed opinion wherein they held that the ear­lier suo motu in the matter was dismissed by 4-3 majority.

He said the LHC had not given the president the authority to announce the election date. The AGP also requested the court to constitute a full court bench for hearing of the matter.

However, CJP Bandial stat­ed that the present case was a completely different matter wherein, the apex court is ex­amining whether the ECP had the authority to postpone the election date. He observed that the “question before the court is a simple one, can the ECP post­pone the election date or not”.

The AGP argued before the court that the two SC judges had given their verdict on the mat­ter earlier. However, CJP Bandial held that the opinion expressed by the two judges was not rele­vant in this matter.

The attorney general respond­ed that if the verdict was 4-3, then the president had no au­thority to give an election date. He urged the court to first set­tle the issue of court order dat­ed March 1, as the petitioner’s prayer is rooted in March 1 order.

CJP Bandial remarked that the AGP’s arguments were based on a “technical point”, and asked the AGP “don’t try to bypass the serious issue.” Justice Aminud­din Khan questioned wheth­er the election schedule could be “reduced to less than 90 days”, while Justice Ijazul Ah­san observed that the ECP “has the right to adjust the election schedule within 90 days”, but added that it could not exceed the 90-day limit.

“Ninety days have been sur­passed even now,” observed Jus­tice Mandokhail, adding that polls “must take place under all circumstances but now the question is who will exceed the election date beyond the 90-day limit.” “The other question is, should an assembly be dis­solved at the whims of one per­son alone,” remarked Justice Mandokhail.

The Chief Justice said that for the first time the Supreme Court is examining the possibility of postponement of the election. He questioned that whether the Constitution allows it adding that the financial constraint and the law and order situation may have some relevance to certain provisions of the Constitution.

He said that if the facts of the case are put together then whether the ECP had reached the threshold? The court noted after the martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto, the elections were de­layed only for 40 days, despite the fact that the record of the elections offices in the prov­inces was burnt. It was very big tragedy.

Usman Mansoor Awan argued that the census is going on and hopefully would be complet­ed within the deadline i.e. 30th April. After the census the ECP would start the delimitation of the constituencies.

Justice Muneeb said that the census is the jurisdiction of the CCI and not the election com­mission. He further said that elections of the two provincial assemblies and the National As­sembly could be held on the ba­sis of the census, while the elec­tions of Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could be held as the previous census. He re­marked that suppose the cen­sus go beyond August, and the meantime the National Assem­bly is dissolved then would the interim setup have mandate to notify the census result.

The Chief Justice noted that the census work should im­prove the fairness of the elec­tions, otherwise we have po­litical parties and they are complaining of that they do not have fair representation.

The AGP informed that the government in order to receive the next tranche of an already agreed loan from IMF intro­duced a money bill in parlia­ment aimed at raising Rs 170 billion in taxes by June 2023.

Justice Muneeb said that what if the government instead of Rs170 billion raises Rs200 bil­lion and gives Rs25 billion for holding of elections adding that the Rs20 billion could be raised by cutting down the expenses.

The Chief Justice said that people like them (judges) could also contribute for this cause. He said that the federal govern­ment has to perform its consti­tutional duty, if the province is unable to provide funds for the election. He noted that Rs10 bil­lion have been allocated for the Laptop Scheme.

Fawad Chaudhry informed that the government had given Rs70 billion to the MNAs for the development in their areas. The Chief Justice said despite the massive earthquake in Turkey, the elections were not post­poned there.

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