Issuing notices to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for dragging feet on polls in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Supreme Court of Pakistan Monday sought guarantees from the government and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for remaining peaceful for free, fair, and transparent elections.
These developments came to the fore during the hearing of the plea regarding the date for general elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa today (Monday).
A five-member larger bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, heard the plea. The court also issued notices to governors of two provinces through the chief secretary.
Apart from the CJP, the bench included Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Amin-Ud-Din Khan and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail.
The PTI moved the apex court following the ECP decision to postpone the Punjab polls from April 30 to October 8 after financial and security authorities expressed their inability to support the electoral process.
In light of the Supreme Court’s split ruling last month, President Arif Alvi announced the date for the Punjab polls after consulting with the ECP.
Following the ECP's announcement, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Haji Ghulam Ali also urged the electoral body to also hold the general elections on the same date (October 8) as the Punjab polls given the growing security threats from terror groups operating from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions.
CJP Bandial in his remarks said elections were indispensable for the functioning of our governance system. "The electoral process should be fair and transparent and that's exactly what Article 218 talks about," the CJP said.
At the outset of the hearing, PTI's lawyer Barrister Ali Zafar said that contempt of court has been committed thrice.
"When was the election schedule issued?" questioned CJP Bandial.
The PTI's counsel replied that the schedule was issued on March 8. "The Election Commission did not have the authority to give a date for the elections," he added.
Barrister Zafar said that the KP governor failed to give a date for the polls in the province despite the Supreme Court's orders.
He added that the president, after consultation with the ECP, gave April 30 as the date for polls.
Barrister Zafar said that the apex court had ordered the ECP to fix the earliest date for elections after the completion of the 90-day period.
"Fixing a date for the polls far later after the 90-day deadline was also contempt of court," he said, adding that the ECP has either changed or suspended the Constitution.
The Ministry of Interior and Defence refused to provide security personnel, he added.
Zafar said that the Constitution does not allow the postponement of elections on the basis of the administration's non-cooperation.
"What guarantee is there that the situation will be better in October?" he questioned,
"What do you want from Supreme Court?" Justice Mandokhail asked the PTI lawyer.
At this, the PTI's counsel said that the top court should ensure the implementation of the Constitution and its order.
Justice Mandokhail remarked it was the high court's job to ensure the implementation of the orders.
"Elections will never be held if the reason for lack of funds is accepted," said Zafar, adding that the matter was just not confined to the execution of the court orders.
"One high court cannot hear the matter of elections in two provinces," said Barrister Zafar.
He added that the Supreme Court had announced its decision using its authority, which still prevailed.
“ECP’s decision became a hurdle in the way of the Supreme Court ruling.”
The PTI's counsel said that only Supreme Court could decide better whether the orders were violated or not. "It is a matter of fundamental rights of the people of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa," he added.