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Sunday, June 11, 2023  
21 Dhul-Qadah 1444  

How long will democracy be sacrificed by delaying elections: CJP

Says electoral should not accept excuse of the Ministry of Finance for election funds

How long will democracy be sacrificed by delaying elections in Pakistan? This was the question Chief Justice Ata Bandial asked the Election Commission’s lawyer who has been arguing for polls all together in October.

The Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies were dissolved earlier this year. The constitution says fresh elections should be held within 90 days. However, the Election Commission of Pakistan has argued that it doesn’t have the money or security to do this. And instead is arguing to hold these polls with the general election in October.

The Supreme Court had earlier ruled that the ECP should hold elections for Punjab on May 14. This case concerns only that provincial assembly.

The three judges hearing it are Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Muneeb Akhtar.

During the hearing Thursday, ECP’s lawyer Sajeel Swati argued that the Supreme Court ruling did not reduce the ECP’s constitutional authority to be able to decide when elections should be held.

Justice Akhtar remarked that if this argument were accepted then the Supreme Court rules would become void.

The counsel said that in certain cases, parliament’s lawmaking authority was also limited.

Justice Akhtar said the lawyer had expanded the scope of the review more than its parent case.

The ECP counsel argued that a caretaker government must be in place for elections.

To this, Justice Ahsan questioned if a provincial assembly was dissolved in six months, would a caretaker set-up remain for four-and-a-half-years in that province? The counsel responded in the affirmative.

He said that Article 254 can provide legal cover to any extension to the 90-day deadline to hold elections to an assembly that has been dissolved. He added that elections can be delayed beyond 90 days.

The judge remarked that it can also be treated in such a way that an elected government stays for four-and-a-half years and a caretaker for six months. He added that the 90-day period is also given in the Constitution.

“Where is it mentioned that a caretaker government’s duration can be extended?” Justice Ahsan asked if adding any extension to the caretaker set-up’s duration is against the spirit of the Constitution.

The lawyer agreed to the court’s observation.

The counsel contended that only an elected government can run the country, adding there can be no breaks in democracy.

Justice Ahsan commented that caretaker governments were included in the Constitution only to facilitate the election commission, adding that it is the responsibility of the ECP to conduct fair elections.

The election commission cannot express its inability to conduct fair polls, the counsel said.

To this, Justice Akhtar remarked that the ECP would say it needed funds and security, to organize the polls. Those talking about the Constitutional rule are running away from it, he added.

The ECP counsel said the October 8 date for elections was given based on facts. To this, Justice Akhtar asked what if the commission tells the court in September that the election cannot be held in October?

He remarked that conducting elections was the election commission’s duty and not a prerogative.

The CJP asked how long will democracy be sacrificed by extending elections, adding democracy has been sacrificed several times in history and its results have been faced for years. He said that the ECP is making political statements now.

He said the Balochistan local government polls were held despite security concerns. If elections are delayed, negative elements exert their force.

“As caretakers of the Constitution, how long will the Supreme Court stay silent?” the CJP asked.

The counsel responded that the May 9 violence have validated the ECP’s fears.

Justice Ahsan asked if a caretaker government can stay for as long as it wants. The ECP counsel said the duration of a caretaker set-up will be determined as per the circumstances.

Justice Aktar said the election commission told the court that only funds were required for polls, and now it says that the polls are not possible under the rules of the Constitution.

The CJP asked which articles of the Constitution will become ineffective if elections are held simultaneously across the country. If the system was strong, it will probably be possible to hold separate elections, he remarked.

The ECP counsel said separate elections to all assemblies are not possible in the current circumstances. If there is an elected government in Punjab, how the National Assembly polls will be fair, he asked.

The CJP responded that the provincial assembly’s interference can be stopped in the NA elections, adding if the commission is strong and fair, there can be no interference.

This issue can be solved administratively, CJP Bandial remarked.

The CJP said the election commission should not accept the Finance Ministry’s excuses, and seek solid explanation from the government. Yesterday, Rs20 billion were issued for lawmakers’ development schemes.

The ECP is itself inactive, the CJP remarked. It demanded 450,000 security personnel, which is as much as the total army strength.

He also asked the ECP to do its homework and come so that it could be determined what its problem is.

The army offered its quick response force to the election commission, CJP Bandial said, adding it was enough.

Apparently, October 8 has been given because of the National Assembly, he observed.

The ECP counsel said there was no reason to doubt the government institutions’ report, adding the October date was suggested over terrorism threats.

When asked how will the situation improve by October and what the commission thinks now that when can the elections be held, the counsel said after the May 9 incidents, the situation will have to be reviewed afresh.

The CJP remarked that the ECP has still not clarified how much delay in the elections is tolerable.

The hearing was then adjourned until May 29.

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