On April 19, a three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Atta Bandial, heard a petition regarding the holding of simultaneous elections across the country. During the hearing, the Chief Justice remarked that if political parties want to change the date of the elections, the court will support them. The court issued notices to the leaders of all political parties while turning down the pleas of the Ministry of Defense and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to postpone the Punjab Assembly elections until October 8 based on the security situation. The court also disposed of miscellaneous petitions as inadmissible.
The Ministry of Defense had filed this petition in the Supreme Court on April 18, saying that in view of the ongoing security situation in the country, the Supreme Court should withdraw the decision of April 4 and order simultaneous elections across the country. The court was also requested to order elections after the completion of the term of Sindh and Balochistan Assembly. Earlier, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif also said that a large number of security personnel cannot be mobilized repeatedly for the elections, and it would be better if the elections were held on a single day.
During the hearing, the three-member bench asked the government to provide Rs21 billion to the ECP for the elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by April 27. The rejection of the government grant bill means that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet have lost their majority in the House. However, the Attorney General was of the view that this is not the case. While agreeing with the Attorney General for now, the written order said that even otherwise, the government may lead to serious constitutional problems by disobeying the court order, and it may have serious consequences. Therefore, it is necessary that the government should provide Rs21 billion by April 27.
According to me, the purpose of the Ministry of Defense’s request for simultaneous elections across the country was to prevent anarchy from spreading in the country through phased elections.
It is heard that during the meeting of the top military leadership and the Chief Justice of Pakistan in the Supreme Court, the provision of security personnel for the election was also discussed. The documents submitted to the Supreme Court by the ECP and the reports of the Ministry of Defense were certainly seen by the honorable judges, and they gave remarks on them. In view of all these facts, now this three-member bench has to take the final decision on whether to hold elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on May 14 or to hold elections simultaneously in the entire country. The ECP has also submitted a report to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in which it has been informed about the non-supply of funds for the elections and the bad security situation.
It should be noted that the date of October 8 for the elections was announced by the ECP under Section 58 of the Election Act 2017, taking into account the reports of the institutions. These reports provided information about the ongoing operations in the country and informed the Supreme Court that the said operations would be completed in four to five months. If seen, the purpose of these operations is to establish law and order in the country, and when the law and order situation in the country improves, it will be easier to hold peaceful elections.
On the occasion, the ECP also mentioned the negative effects of the National and Provincial Assemblies elections being held three days apart in 1977, in which the opposition parties accused the government of rigging the elections of the Provincial Assemblies after the announcement of the results of the National Assembly and boycotted the elections. The Election Commission of Pakistan, considering all aspects, also requested the Supreme Court of Pakistan to restore the schedule of October 8 elections.
In the past, too, our dear country has faced many such crisis situations, but the situation was controlled by mutual consultation and the positive role of state institutions. The Supreme Court’s proposal to all political parties to come to a stand regarding the elections may prove to be the solution to the problems arising regarding the conduct of the elections, but Maulana Fazlur Rahman expressed his deep concerns in this regard in a press conference.
During his speech at the Golden Jubilee ceremony of the Constitution of Pakistan in Islamabad, Justice Qazi Faez Isa stated that Pakistan did not break up suddenly in December 1971; its seeds were sown much earlier. According to him, the main reason for the breakup of Pakistan was a wrong judicial decision. In his opinion, Justice Munir of the Federal Court sowed the seeds of Pakistan’s disintegration. This poisonous seed grew, and in 1971, the country split into two. Justice Qazi Faez Isa emphasized that history teaches us to learn from the past. If we do not learn from it, history will repeat itself, and this has happened multiple times in Pakistan. Lessons should be learned from the events of 1958, 1977, 1993, 1999, and many other instances. The Constitution of Pakistan is a valuable gift that should be protected at all costs. What is not in the constitution should be considered dictatorial. Justice Qazi Faez Isa further emphasized that the work we do today will have a lasting impact for centuries. He expressed his opinion that under Article 184(3), the suo moto powers are in Supreme Court jurisdiction. This clause was reserved for the oppressed, and in his view, any judge of the Supreme Court can exercise this jurisdiction, regardless of seniority. He acknowledged that his decision may be judged by others or history. The Constitution has been attacked many times, but it has the courage to stand for 50 years. When the 18th amendment was passed in 2010, the Constitution was distorted. It is crucial to bring everyone together to avoid doubts. Although the 18th amendment strengthened the federation, the process under which it was passed was not consultative. Justice Qazi Faiz Isa stressed the importance of maintaining the federation.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Bill 2023, related to judicial reforms, has been approved after the constitutional period for re-approval by Parliament. According to the statement issued by the National Assembly Secretariat, the Supreme Court Practice and Procedure Act 2023 shall be deemed approved by the President under Clause 2 of Article 75 of the Constitution of Pakistan. Now, with this Gazette Notification, the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s ability to take important decisions through taking notice has become ineffective in my view. Furthermore, on April 27, the bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan that will make important decisions could be declared controversial and ineffective by the government.