RUMOURS of delayed elections and an extended caretaker set-up didn’t die down once the Dr Tahirul Qadri spectacle had come to an end without changing anything much at all. Such speculation has continued in the days since, including in public remarks made by the prime minister and a prominent parliamentarian from the ruling party. To what extent these observations were based on reliable information is unclear, but they were made while the Supreme Court and the administration had entered into another one of their matches in which fatal blows hadn’t been dealt but enough punches thrown and resisted to revive the perception of an executive-judiciary tussle. At a time when rumours of delayed elections refuse to go away, then, the court has done the smart thing by stepping in to announce that under no circumstances should polls be delayed.
This order has served multiple purposes. For one, it should help quell worries about a possible delay or intervention, particularly since it warns both the military and the civilians against interrupting the democratic process. But it also makes a deliberate effort to distance the judiciary from any such plans — the court made it clear that no interventions should be carried out in its name. This is a point that, unfortunately, now needed to be made. The order for the arrest of the prime minister in the rental power plants case — and Dr Qadri’s public reaction to it — was only the beginning of what has become an increasingly dramatic stand-off that has included resistance from the National Accountability Bureau, the suicide or murder of one of its investigators and the NAB chairman’s now-public complaint that the court is impeding its work — and that it could end up delaying elections by doing so.
The judiciary has delivered a direct denial of such motives. That should provide breathing room to the ruling party and the opposition to focus on solutions rather than threats. Talks about caretaker set-ups are under way within both camps, but they don’t seem to be talking to each other in any constructive way; the leader of the opposition’s latest announcement, even if it was driven by politics, that they will not be discussing the issue with the ruling alliance doesn’t help perceptions about the civilians’ ability to engineer a smooth transition. Meanwhile, various dates for dissolving the assemblies and for elections have been handed out by various members of the ruling party without any official confirmation. The SC has thrown the ball in the civilians’ court. It’s time for them to get talking, and to get down to specifics.