Pakistan's top court fixes May 14 as new date for Punjab elections - GulfToday

Pakistan's top court fixes May 14 as new date for Punjab elections


Police officers stand guard outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad on Tuesday. AP

Tariq Butt / Agencies

The Supreme Court (SC) ruled on Tuesday that the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) to postpone polls to the Punjab Assembly till Oct.8 was unconstitutional and fixed May 14 as the date for the electoral exercise in the province.

Three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial announced the verdict, directed federal government to issue funds for elections.

The ECP had on March 22 announced that the elections in Punjab would be held on Oct.8. The date was earlier set on April 30, in consultation with the president.

In its order, the apex court instructed the ECP to reinstate its previous election schedule under which polls were to be held and extended it by 13 days, saying that the ECP could not go beyond the 90-day stipulated time.

It said that 13 days were wasted because of the ECP’s unlawful decision. It directed the caretaker government in Punjab to assist the ECP and instructed the ECP to inform the court if the government refused to do so.

The reserved verdict was given by a three-member bench — headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Ijazul Ahsan.

The much-anticipated decision was announced by the apex judge in Court Room 1 where coalition leaders, journalists and lawyers were in attendance.

Outside the Supreme Court’s building, heavy security was deployed with a large contingent of police guarding the main entrance.

Earlier, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had said that the government expected the court to pass a verdict that would help push the country out of crises.

"We hope better sense will prevail and the political crisis in the country will come to an end,” he told media persons outside the apex court.

Reiterating the federal coalition’s demand regarding a full court, Sanaullah stated that the government still stood by it. "Our stance right now is the voice of the nation - this matter can only be resolved via a full court.

"Even the PTI has said that they don’t have any objection to a full court. Then why isn’t the CJP forming it?” he asked.

The minister also stressed that elections should be held in the country simultaneously, adding that separate polls to provincial assemblies will only create anarchy, chaos and further political crises.

Standing beside Sanaullah, Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar said: "Institutions work collectively and not on the dictation of one person. We hope that the SC will also use collective wisdom and take this matter forward.” "It will deepen the country's crisis," Tarar said.

After a day-long hearing on Monday — which began a little after 11:30am — the bench closed proceedings at about 4:30pm and reserved the verdict till Tuesday.

During the hearing, the CJP directed Defence Secretary Hamood Zaman and Finance Additional Secretary Amir Mehmood to convince the court about the overwhelming impediments blocking the holding of the elections in Punjab.

The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) petition, moved by party’s Secretary General Asad Umar, former Punjab Assembly speaker Mohammad Sibtain Khan, former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Speaker Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani and ex-lawmakers of Punjab Abdul Rehman and Mian Mahmoodur Rashid, pleaded that the ECP’s decision violated the Constitution and tantamount to amending and subverting it.

In the petition, PTI had sought directions for the federal government to ensure law and order, provisions of funds and security personnel as per the ECP’s need to hold the elections.

It also requested the court to direct the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor to announce the date for elections to the provincial assembly. Last week, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Governor Ghulam Ali also proposed Oct.8 as the date for elections in the province.

A separate application should be made to determine the date of Khyber Pakhtukhwa's polls, the panel of three Supreme Court judges said.

Senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said the decision was a "huge victory" for Imran Khan, who was shot last year in an assassination attempt he blamed on Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

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