SC seeks assurance from respondents to reduce political tension in country

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday sought assurance from the respondents to reduce the political tension in the country and adjourned the hearing till Thursday in a case with regard to the elections in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab.

A five-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial heard the case filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). At the outset of hearing, PPP’s lawyer Farouk H. Naek prayed to the court to form a full bench for interpretation of the apex court’s verdict of March 1, which, he said, necessary for the requirement of justice to clarify whether the said judgment was passed with a majority of 4-3 or 3-2.

The chief justice remarked that the court could decide the matter when a separate plea in that regard would be before it. He asked the lawyer to file a written application for the purpose. Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail inquired how the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had implemented the judgment and issued the election schedule when it did not have any court order to that effect. The ECP’s lawyer, Sajeel Swati, replied that the Commission probably might not understand the order properly.

Justice Munib Akhtar observed whether the March 1 decision did not state that it was an order with a majority of 4-3. The five judges heard the case in open court and then gave the judgment. Justice Mandokhail said the short order also mentioned that a dissenting note had been given, which stated that the two members agreed with the decision of Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Athar Minallah. Whether the judgment of the two dissenting judges had evaporated, he asked.

The ECP’s lawyer said as regards the 4-3 majority judgment, he had not taken instructions from his client. The Commission had tried its best to hold transparent elections and proposed a date for polling under Section-57. Besides the people’s right to vote, he said, the ECP had to keep their security in view as well. Article 17 of the Constitution ensured the execution of the right to vote in a peaceful environment, while the security institutions refused to perform security duty for the polls. He said the ECP had written letters to the Army, Rangers and Frontier Constabulary for the provision of security. The ECP also held a meeting with the sensitive institutions which reported that terrorists had entered Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from Afghanistan, and the reports if directed could be produced, he added. The chief justice remarked that the reports related to the terrorists’ presence in KP were serious.

The lawyer said the presence of banned organizations in Bhakhar and Mianwali was also mentioned in the reports. He said a total of 412,000 personnel were required for security. The ECP knew in February that the elections were not possible for next six to eight months. Justice Munib remarked that the ECP was depending on the letters it had written on February 8, while the court had given its judgment on March 1. Why the ECP proposed the date of April 30 for polling to the president if it wanted to hold elections in October, he asked.

The ECP’s lawyer said he had given the reference of the reports of security agencies just as a background, however, the Commission took the decision on March 22 to delay the elections. The Finance Ministry had also expressed its inability to release Rs 20 billion for elections in the current fiscal year, while there was also a shortage of 297,000 security personnel in Punjab, he added. Justice Mandokhail asked whether the Finance Ministry had already given approval for the said funds.

The lawyer replied that only the ministry concerned could give the details in that regard.

The chief justice asked whether the funds for the elections, which would have to take place in the current year (2023) in all situations, were not earmarked in the budget. Attorney General for Pakistan Usman Mansoor Awan said the government would allocate funds for the polls in the next fiscal year budget.

The two assemblies were unexpectedly dissolved before time, he added.
The AGP said the expenditure for simultaneous elections of all the assemblies in the country was estimated as Rs 47 billion, and Rs 20 billion extra would have to be spent if elections in the two provinces were held separately.

The ECP’s counsel said the secretary interior had also told that there were security threats to the political leaders during the election campaign and on the polling day. The chief justice questioned whether the ECP had shared such information with the president and it was a mistake if it were not done. The reports about the security situation were serious, he said, adding it was stated that it would take six months to clear the areas. Five terrorism incidents had also taken place in Punjab.

To a query, the ECP’s counsel said it would also take six months to complete the clearance operation in Katcha areas of Punjab. The ECP had no reasons to doubt the intelligence reports, he added Sajeel Swati said the president had written a letter to the prime minister instead of the ECP regarding the change in the election date. To a query, he said without the provision of security from the army elections were not possible.

He said that 443 security threats were received in 2023 for KP, while 80 terrorism incidents claiming some 70 precious lives took place in the province. If funds and security were provided then the ECP was ready to hold polls in Punjab, he added. Justice Munib said the ECP was ready to fulfill its responsibility if the institutions cooperated with it. The ECP’s lawyer said the Commission wrote a letter to the Federal Government on March 20, while it was informed about the Defence Ministry’s response on March 21.

Chief Justice Bandial asked whether everything would be settled on October 8. The lawyer responded the polling date was given after an interim review of the situation. The chief justice observed that it meant the ECP could further delay the polls. He directed the counsel to tell a fixed date after taking information from the ECP. The lawyer said that the security institutions had told that the security arrangements would be completed till October 8.

Justice Munib asked whether the delay in the polls was not a violation of the Constitution. Section 58 did not allow the ECP to extend the election date. To a question, the lawyer said the ECP was the authority to extend the poll date on solid reasons after the announcement of a schedule.

The chief justice observed that the court had asked the respondents to reduce political tension in the country and till that time peaceful polls were not possible. The case was then adjourned till Thursday. Meanwhile, PML-N, PPP and JUI-F filed petitions to become parties in said case. (APP)