(CLOCKWISE from left) Heavy contingents of security forces outside the Supreme Court ahead of the verdict; a jubilant supporter of an opposition party offers sweets to a colleague in Karachi; and, Peoples Party members and PTI dissidents flash victory signs at Sindh House in Islamabad.—Tanveer Shahzad / Shakil Adil-White Star
(CLOCKWISE from left) Heavy contingents of security forces outside the Supreme Court ahead of the verdict; a jubilant supporter of an opposition party offers sweets to a colleague in Karachi; and, Peoples Party members and PTI dissidents flash victory signs at Sindh House in Islamabad.—Tanveer Shahzad / Shakil Adil-White Star

• Dy speaker’s ruling, Alvi’s dissolution scrapped
• Assembly, PM, cabinet et al restored to April 3 position
• No-confidence to be tabled in NA tomorrow
• Celebrations in opposition camp across country
• ECP says fresh polls will take at least seven months

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Thursday night issued a historic judgement denouncing the dissolution of the National Assembly by President Dr Arif Alvi on April 3 and ordered Prime Minister Imran Khan to face the vote of no-confidence on Saturday.

In a unanimous short order announced by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial to capacity crowd at Courtroom No.1, the apex court also set aside the ruling of Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri that had blocked — under Article 5 — voting on the no-confidence move by holding it contrary to the Constitution.

Soon after the judgement was announced, political workers of all shades who had converged on the apex court in large numbers burst into jubilation, raising slogans in favour of the court and against Prime Minister Imran Khan, who along with his cabinet stands restored.

Constitution Avenue was also jam-packed with cars and people.

Before the verdict’s announcement, the CJP had asked Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja to explain if the commission was ready to hold general elections. He explained that the commission would be taking a minimum period of four months to conduct the delimitation and another 90 days for the general elections.

Although a detailed judgement would be issued later, the short order declared that the no-trust resolution against Imran Khan was still pending.

In consequence, the court declared, Prime Minister Imran Khan was under the bar imposed by the explanation in Article 58(1) of the Constitution which states that in case of a no-confidence motion, the prime minister cannot advice the dissolution of the assembly.

Consequently, the court declared that the advice tendered by the prime minister to the president to dissolve the assembly was contrary to the Constitution and of no legal effect.

The Supreme Court also set aside that the order of the president issued on April 3 to dissolve the assembly and made it clear that the assembly was in existence at all times and continues to remain so.

The Supreme Court further declared that all actions following from the president’s order, including the appointment of a caretaker prime minister and cabinet, were of no legal effect and stood quashed.

The court also restored the prime minister, all federal ministers, ministers of state and advisers to their respective offices as on April 3.

The speaker, the order said, will not, in exercise of his powers under Article 54(3), prorogue the assembly and bring the session to an end, except if the resolution was not passed by the requisite majority.

If the no-confidence resolution is successful, then the assembly will proceed to elect a new prime minister in its present session under Article 91, read with Rule 32 of the rules and all other enabling provisions and powers in this regard. The speaker and all other persons, including the federal government, are under a duty to ensure that the orders and directions hereby given are speedily complied, the judgement held.

The order said that the assurances given by the AGP on behalf of the federal government in the SCBA petition and incorporated in the order will apply as the order of the court, which asked the government not to hinder or obstruct any members of the assembly who wish to attend the session and cast their votes on the no confidence resolution.

The Supreme Court clarified that nothing in this short order would affect the operation of Article 63A of the Constitution and its consequences in relation to any member of the assembly if he votes on the resolution or the election of the prime minister in such manner that is tantamount to defection.

The April 3 SC order that any action by the prime minister and the president will be subject to the order of the apex court will continue to remain in the field, the court held, adding that it shall apply also to the speaker until the requisite actions were completed.

Thursday’s proceedings

Earlier in the day, Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif appeared before the court to say he would accept whatever decision was handed down, but pleaded with the bench to restore the assembly and allow the sovereign to determine the fate of the no-trust motion.

On a court query, the opposition leader said the PTI government was also a coalition government and that if elected, the coalition of joint opposition parties consisted of representatives from the length and breadth of the country.

If the coalition government of the PTI was acceptable, then why not the opposition coalition, he wondered.

Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel, one of the members of the bench, wondered that while the PML-N was demanding fresh elections from day one, they seemed reluctant now. Because the 2018 elections were stolen, came Mr Sharif’s retort.

He was bitter that the Constitution had been deeply damaged by the melodrama in Punjab, adding that governments in Sindh, KP and Baluchistan were still functioning.

He explained to the apex court that if the present assembly was restored, they still had one and half years to go.

At this, Attorney General Khalid Javed Khan cautioned that the suggestion propagated by the opposition leader would not work since one could not rule on the mandate of others, adding that those who had turned the tables on the government’s would also not spare the opposition.

However, this remark was described by senior counsel Makhdoom Ali Khan – who represents Mr Sharif – as both “threatening and intimidating”.

The CJP observed that throughout its movement, the opposition had been campaigning for fresh elections, but now the opposition was taking the opposite stance.

At this, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari explained that the intention behind bringing a no-trust motion was to conduct electoral reforms and hold early elections.

He said the PPP announced its intentions before the Awami March and that they had even submitted a comprehensive white paper on alleged election rigging in 2018 before the ECP.

“We pray that the court sets a precedent that strengthens our institutions, our democracy and our Constitution,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said, adding that it would be unfortunate if the unconstitutional ruling was condemned, but the intentions of those who perpetuated this act were not thwarted.

At this, the CJP observed that Bilawal Bhutto had expressed his views very eloquently and was the only one who wore a smile while addressing the court.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2022

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