The rift between the government and judiciary seems to have widened after the bill, which seeks to clip the Supreme Court’s (SC) chief justice’s power to take suo motu notice and constitute benches, became law.
This was shared on the National Assembly’s official Twitter account, which stated: “Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023, of the Majlis-i-Shoora (Parliament) is deemed to have been assented to by the President […] under clause (2) of Article 75 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. “It is hereby published for general information.”
Twice the bill was passed by the joint sitting of the parliament-earlier on March 28 and then on April 10 – and both times, President Dr Arif Alvi refused to assent to the bill, first on the ground that it travelled “beyond the competence of Parliament” and then on the plea that the matter was subjudice.
As per the Constitution, if the bill is not signed by the president within 10 days, it becomes law.
But then where does the Supreme Court ruling stand in this whole scenario?
After the bill was passed by the joint session of the parliament, an eight-member SC bench issued an order barring the government from implementing the bill after it became law.
According to the interim order, “the moment that the bill receives the assent of the president or it is deemed that such assent has been given, then from that very moment onwards and till further orders, the act that comes into being shall not have, take or be given any effect nor be acted upon in any manner.”
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had strongly reacted to this order, denouncing the apex court’s direction to stop the enforcement of a proposed law that regulated the powers of the chief justice of Pakistan.
With the latest development about the bill becoming a law, the situation has become more complicated.
The court, which had been hearing the case about the elections in Punjab, had directed that the polls to the provincial assembly be held on May 14 and called on the Election Commission of Pakistan to make the necessary arrangements.
The government took the matter to the parliament which refused to release the funds. The apex court directed the State Bank of Pakistan to arrange the funds, but the government clearly stated that the bank did not have the authority to do so.
Then, the dialogue option gained momentum. First, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) floated the idea of holding talks, following which the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) budget and showed its willingness too. However, both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Jamiat Ulema-I-Pakistan-Fazl ( JUI-F) rejected the talks. Later, the PML-N wavered and expressed its willingness to initiate dialogue and even formed a panel for the purpose.
But, the JUI-F outright refused.
In a press conference, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman rejected talks with PTI chief Imran Khan.
He said the PTI chief wanted things done as per his wishes.
He questioned Imran’s decision to dissolve the assemblies and called him incompetent.
He said the government was being forced to hold talks with a person who did not have any regard for the national interest.
Meanwhile, the PTI has now put forward a new condition for talks. Earlier, it favoured natural dialogue but now its leader, Fawad Chaudhry, has said talks could only be held under the Supreme Court’s watch.
The apex court had warned the government of dire consequences, but from how things look, the present setup is not interested in holding elections.
How will things materialize, and where will the law stand, will become clear post-Eid.