SC allows govt to hold polls in GB under Election Act 2017

Updated 01 May 2020

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Centre also permitted to amend law to install caretaker govt. — AFP/File
Centre also permitted to amend law to install caretaker govt. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed the federal government to conduct the coming general elections in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) under the Election Act 2017 and amend the related law to install a caretaker government for conducting polls.

The five-year term of the incumbent government of GB is due to expire in the last week of June whereas next general elections in the region will become due within 60 days after the expiry of the GB Legislative Assembly.

“After hearing the parties we allowed the federal government’s application with consensus, the reasons of which will be recorded later,” Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed said.

As explained by Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan, the amendments will be made by promulgating a presidential order.

Headed by the chief justice, a seven-judge Supreme Court bench had taken up the federal government’s application seeking amendments to the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 to conduct general elections by adopting the Election Act 2017 and subsequent rules/regulations and setting up a caretaker government during the interim period.

Centre also permitted to amend law to install caretaker govt

However, the apex court said it would take up other pending petitions about the status of GB, like a contempt of court case against the federal government, after the Eid holidays.

Prior to bringing amendments, the AG explained, the government had to look and analyse the regional situation of the area before implementing the apex court’s Jan 17, 2019 verdict which asked for the rights of the citizens of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Under the judgement, the federal government is required to enact the Gilgit-Baltistan Governance Reforms 2019 by tabling a bill before the parliament of Pakistan for bringing required amendments.

In the absence of GB Governance Reforms 2019, the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 is still in the field. However the 2018 order lacks provisions that provide mechanism for installation of a caretaker government after the expiry of the GB Legislative Assembly.

That mechanism is available in the 2019 Supreme Court order through Section 56(5) of the reforms. Through the presidential order, the federal government will incorporate section 56(5) in the 2018 order and adopt Election Act 2017 to conduct next general elections in the territory.

At the outset of Thursday’s hearing, the advocate general of GB, who earlier was summoned by the court, told apex court that what the federal government was seeking was the need of the GB government, pointing out that the Election Act 2017 had not been extended to the territory of GB.

Through its application, the federal government had requested the Supreme Court to allow it to make necessary amendments to the Government of GB Order 2018 to install a caretaker government and conduct elections for the GB assembly till the promulgation of the proposed reforms in the territory.

Permission was also sought for adapting the Election Act 2017 and the rules/regulations under it and for doing all that was necessary to continue electoral process in the area.

The application explained that while different options for meeting the desires of the GB people were being examined by the government and discussed with the stakeholders but it required deliberations at greater length.

The term of the incumbent government GB was due to expire in June hence there was urgency to provide legal mechanism and to provide for holding of elections, including setting up of a caretaker government, the application said.

It said elections in GB were not clearly enumerated in the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 or in the Gilgit-Baltistan Reforms 2019, which needed to be rectified.

The non-adaption of the Election Act 2017 and Election Rules 2017 in GB might delay preparation of computerised electoral rolls and the election process of GB assembly, pleaded the federal government.

The application stated that there was no provision in the 2018 order for the mechanism of appointment of a caretaker government, which was against the spirit of transparency and also the constitution of Pakistan.

During the hearing, Salman Akram Raja advocate, who represented the GB Chief Court Bar Association and GB Bar Council, opposed the federal government’s application saying that it was seeking amendment in the law which had not been enacted.

The 2019 Supreme Court verdict had come on a set of petitions challenging the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018, Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009.

The petitions demanded that GB be declared a part of Pakistan instead of being administered through presidential orders.

The federal government would bring no amendment to the 2018 order, except so promulgated in terms of the procedure provided in Article 124 of the Constitution, and if the order so promulgated was repealed or substituted by an act of parliament, its validity, if challenged, would be examined on the touchstone of the constitution, the 2019 judgement had said.

The verdict had also explained that Article 187 of the Constitution conferred a special jurisdiction to the Supreme Court over GB.

The verdict had also expressed concern that though the apex court had articulated the basic position with regard to the status and rights of the GB people in Al-Jehad Trust case two decades ago, the actual realisation by the executive of that expression had remained fitful at best.

The verdict had also stated that the human rights jurisprudence of the apex court had served, and would continue to serve, as the sheet-anchor of the liberties and rights of all the people and GB was no exception.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2020