ISLAMABAD: Presiding over a hearing concerning the possibility of extending the election date, the chief justice of Pakistan on Tuesday said the issue at hand was straightforward, questioning whether the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had the authority to delay the vote in Punjab, scheduled for April 30, until October 8.
The remarks by Umar Ata Bandial came as Supreme Court resumed hearing the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) petition requesting that the tribunal be directed to hold the elections on the previously scheduled date of April 30. It contends that the decision to delay the polls violated the Constitution and amounted to amending and subverting it.
Justice Bandial emphasised that rule of law was essential for democracy to function, and expressed concern that political tensions could cause problems for the country.
As the hearing began, Farooq H. Naek, the counsel for Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), claimed there was “anarchy and fascism” in the country.
The attorney general pointed out that two Supreme Court judges had issued dissenting notes regarding the judgement on March 1, which cast doubt on the chief justice’s power to restructure benches without the consent of the respective judges.
A day earlier, justices Mansoor Ali Shah and Jamal Khan Mandokhail raised concerns about the suo motu judgement on the issue, claiming that the proceedings were dismissed by a majority of 4-3. They contended that the chief justice should not have the power to restructure benches without the consent of the respective judges.
However, Justice Bandial asserted the focus of the hearing was not the previous verdict, but the tribunal’s power.
The attorney general contended that the petition was based on the ECP’s violation of the court orders. At this, Justice Bandial emphasized that the matter at hand concerned the delay of the election date rather than setting a new one.
He urged all parties involved to prioritise the welfare of the people and to respect national institutions while working within their constitutional limits. The hearing emphasized the importance of upholding democracy and the rule of law in Pakistan.
‘ONE MAN’S DECISION’
At the outset of the hearing, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail questioned whether the assemblies should be dissolved “on the whim of one person” and who has the authority to extend elections beyond 90 days.
He further inquired whether holding elections within the stipulated time of 90 days was not a constitutional requirement, and whether the ECP could delay the date for polls. The chief justice thanked Justice Mandokhail for “clearing the matter”.
Justice Mandokhail also expressed his disappointment that the Constitution was not being taken seriously in the country, pointing out that the 90-day period for holding elections had already elapsed.
The judge raised concerns about who would be authorized to extend the date for polls beyond the prescribed period, and whether one person could dissolve the assemblies on a whim.
Barrister Zafar argued that both the prime minister and chief minister were elected representatives. However, Justice Mandokhail highlighted that the assembly could still be dissolved if the prime minister’s political party sought a vote of no-confidence. Barrister Zafar acknowledged this point.
The judge also questioned whether the issue should be debated in parliament. In response, the PTI’s counsel acknowledged that parliament could indeed discuss the powers of the prime minister and chief minister.
Regardless, the question remains as to who has the authority to dissolve the assemblies and extend the election period.
Justice Bandial stressed the importance of respecting all national institutions, but also noted that each institution must work within its constitutional limits. Syed Ali Zafar, the counsel for PTI, warned that the crisis would escalate if the elections were delayed.
He also urged the PTI to take the initiative to improve the situation in the country.