Keeping Parliament supreme

The only way of settling the election controversy lies in Parliament amending the Constitution

While the government and opposition have obeyed the Supreme Court in holding talks on a single date for elections to the national and all four provincial assemblies, it seems that there is no consensus developing. As matters stand, the Supreme Court has set May 14 as the date of elections to the Punjab Assembly, while the KP Assembly, dissolved around the same time, has not got a date for elections earlier than the October 8 date agreed by the Governor after the ECP postponed the original polls set by the President. However, at the moment, it cannot be said that the parties are close to an agreement, leaving the possibility of the governing coalition refusing to a date, leaving the order of the Supreme Court holding the field, but with slim chances of being obeyed, which would merely revert to the confrontation between the Supreme Court and Parliament. Perhaps the only positive takeaway was that the two institutions had not taken any fresh step against the other.

However, an important principle is at stake. That elections have to be held in 90 days is evident, as is the possibility, under Article 224, of going beyond that limit. However, who decides on such a postponement? The Election Commission of Pakistan thought it could, but the Supreme Court has said that it cannot, and that only the court can. Oneway of mediating between these two constitutional bodies would be for Parliament to have the final decision, through a constitutional amendment. With the PTI having made its members resign, the National Assembly is incomplete, and while it can pass ordinary legislation, and even the Budget, it cannot pass a constitutional amendment. Perhaps one way out would be to let the PTI MNAs, who had resigned, return to the House. The alternative would be to let the Supreme Court issue an order, as it seems only too willing to do.

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Only a constitutional amendment would suffice to cover the present situation, and reconcile the dissolution of more than one provincial assembly with the idea of same-day elections for all assemblies. At the moment, the situation is that the talks are taking place because the Supreme Court has knocked heads together, and is playing the role of an arbitrator, which it is not supposed to do. It should be made clear by legislate action that any deviations from constitutionally set timetables can only be carried out by Parliament, and that too by amending the Constitution.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].


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