President can give election date, CJ

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ISLAMABAD – Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial remarked Monday that the Elections Act, 2017 clearly states that the president can announce the date for elections.

The top judge issued the remarks while hearing a suo motu case regarding delaying in elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where provincial assemblies were dissolved by the PTI in January this year.

Since the dissolution of the assemblies, the governors of both provinces and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) are reluctant to announce a date for general elections in the provinces. After both parties remained failed to fulfill their duties, President Arif Alvi unilaterally announced that polls will be held in April – a move that was widely criticised by the government of coalition parties.

Today, a five-member bench comprising Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Shah and Justice Mandokhail was formed after four judges of the original nine-member bench – Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Yahya Afridi recused themselves from hearing the case.

During the hearing, the five-judge bench heard arguments from Barrister Ali Zafar, the counsel of speakers of both provinces, who filed a petition over delay in elections.

When the hearing began, CJP Bandial shared that four judges had distanced themselves from the bench, adding that the rest of the members will continue to hear the case for interpretation of the Constitution.  

Following this, Zafar started his arguments stating that the Punjab chief minister had sent the summary for the dissolution of the assembly to the governor. However, the governor did not sign the summary and the assembly automatically dissolved 48 hours after he refused to sign it.

As per the Constitution, the election should be held not more than 90 days of the dissolution of the assembly, he said, adding that the Punjab Assembly was dissolved on Jan 14. He informed the bench the matter was later taken to the Lahore High Court (LHC), which ordered the ECP to hold consultation with the governor to decide a date for election. But the meeting remained inconclusive.

“Can the elections be delayed by someone?” Justice Mazhar asked. To this, Zafar said no one could delay the elections as per the Constitution.

Justice Mazhar remarked ping pong was being played over the announcement of election date.

At one point, CJP Bandial asked reason for a long adjournment of an intra-court appeal in LHC. To this, Advocate Azhar Siddique told the court that the ECP had sought time to submit a reply to the LHC and hence, the hearing was adjourned.

He said a contempt of court plea was also filed on February 14 in the LHC and the ECP was yet to submit its response

Justice Akhtar also discussed the situation in KP. At this, Zafar said the assembly had been dissolved by the governor but he asked the electoral body to hold consultations with the stakeholders. He said the governor had not given a date for elections so far and cited security reasons in his letter.

Meanwhile, the lawyer representing the ECP told the bench that three constitutional pleas were pending in the Peshawar High Court (PHC).

At this, CJP Bandial inquired why had the high court issued a 21-day notice to the parties.

At one point, CJP Bandial said that the parliament has clearly written in the elections act that the president can also issue the election’s date. He said it is yet to see what the president can consult with the ECP.

The CJP said the top court wanted to wrap up the case tomorrow and adjourned hearing till 9:30pm tomorrow.

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