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.