1st March 2023
By Rehan Piracha
The federal government’s senior law officials and lawyers from the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) were clearly split over the interpretation of the Supreme Court verdict that had ruled that elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab should be held within 90 days.
In a 3-2 majority verdict, the five-member full bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, ruled that President Arif Alvi and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor were to announce the date of general elections to the Punjab and KP assemblies respectively after consultation with the Election Commission.
The apex court directed that the ECP should propose dates for holding elections in both provinces, deviating to the ‘barest minimum’ from the 90-day deadline stipulated in the Constitution upon dissolution of provincial assemblies.
The apex court also directed the federal government was obligated to provide the Election Commission with all such facilities, personnel, and security as it may require for the holding of the general elections.
Similarly, the provincial caretaker governments were to proactively provide all aid and assistance as may be required by the Election Commission, the SC order stated.
The majority verdict was given by CJP Bandial, Justice Munib Akhtar, and Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar while Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah wrote a dissenting note with the order.
Petitions dismissed by 4-3 majority: AGP
Addressing a press conference along with Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, Barrister Shehzad Ata Elahi, Attorney General for Pakistan, stated that the full bench, which earlier comprised nine members, dismissed the suo motu proceedings over elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He referred to the dissenting note penned by Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail that they agreed with Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Athar Minallah of dismissing the petitions.
He also read a footnote from the judgment to emphasize that the full bench still comprised seven members with two judges who have recused themselves.
“Initially a nine-member bench heard this matter. The aforementioned two Hon’ble Judges decided the matter by dismissing the said petitions. Later on two other Hon’ble Judges disassociated themselves from the Bench for personal reasons and as the two aforementioned judges had dismissed the matter, the Bench was reconstituted into a five-member bench vide order dated 27.02.2023. The decisions of the aforementioned two Hon’ble Judges dated 23.2.2023 form part of the record of this case,” the AGP read the footnote quoted in the court order.
High courts to decide matter of election dates: Law minister
Stating the government’s position on the verdict, Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said the bench had dismissed the petitions on the grounds that the matter of election dates was pending before high courts in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said there was no need to file a review of the Supreme Court judgment. “Those who do not understand the verdict can approach the courts,” he said. The law minister said the high courts would decide the matter of the announcement of election dates in Punjab and KhyberPakhutnkhwa.
Federation, ECP bound to hold polls in 90 days: PTI counsel
PTI counsel Barrister Ali Zafar said the apex court has ruled that elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa should be held within 90 days as stipulated in the Constitution. The Federation and Election Commission were bound to hold polls in the stated timeframe, he said at a press conference outside the Supreme Court building.
SC verdict needs further interpretation: JUI-F counsel
Speaking with Voicepk.net, JUI-F counsel Kamran Murtaza said the Supreme Court order needed further interpretation as it has not clarified points relating to census and caretaker governments that his party pointed out in the proceedings. “The SC verdict has caused confusion on whether elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would be held under the previous census while the general elections in Balochistan, Sindh, and National Assembly would be held under ongoing new census, he added.
Similarly, how caretaker governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would be ensured for National Assembly elections there if there are elected governments in these provinces, Kamran Murtaza said. He said the matter of election dates should be decided inside Parliament and building a consensus among all political parties.
Responding to statements from the AGP and Law Minister, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhary said that if the government did not implement the verdict, the apex court could hold the prime minister in contempt of court.