The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday accepted Punjab Governor Balighur Rehman’s request to be granted more time to submit a response regarding a PTI petition seeking the announcement of a date for elections in the province.
The PTI on Jan 27 had approached the LHC, seeking its order for the Punjab governor to immediately announce a date of an election in the province since the assembly had been dissolved. The ECP had recommended the elections be held between April 9 and 17.
The petition, filed through PTI General Secretary Asad Umar, stated that more than 10 days had passed since the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly but Governor Rehman had failed to fulfil his constitutional duty of announcing an election date.
Justice Jawad Hassan, who presided over today’s hearing, directed the respondent — the Punjab governor — to submit a detailed response to the court before the next hearing, which he adjourned till Feb 9.
In a tweet today, Umar said: “Today’s court hearing has almost clarified that Punjab Assembly elections will be held in the second week of April.” He called on PTI workers to start preparing for the elections.
At the outset of the hearing today, the court asked the ECP lawyer about the date on which they plan to hold the provincial elections.
The lawyer responded: “We are ready to hold the elections. There has been a new development yesterday regarding this; the governor has responded to the ECP’s letter.
“The governor has asked the ECP to hold a discussion with all the stakeholders.”
Justice Hassan remarked: “It is mentioned in the Consitution that the elections should be held within 90 days [of the assembly’s dissolution].”
The court asked: “How can you say that the economic situation has worsened? Even in the past, the economic situation has been bad but the elections were conducted.
“Various verdicts of the top courts are available regarding this matter.”
The lawyer representing the federal government, Nassar Ahmed, responded that there was “plenty of time” till the 90-day period was over.
The judge, however, stressed that the date for the election should still be announced. “We are just talking about what is mentioned in the Constitution.”
The Centre’s lawyer replied: “No one is saying that elections would not be held.”
The court addressed the ECP lawyer: “Set the governor aside; you should announce the election date.
“You are doing so much work [so] you should give the election date yourself.”
At this point of the hearing, the PTI’s secretary general arrived at the rostrum.
Asad Umar said: “The ECP has issued a schedule regarding the by-elections for the National Assembly. The by-elections have to be held in the entire country.
He took a jibe at the ECP saying: “The thought of the economic situation did not come to their (ECP’s) minds while issuing the by-election schedule?”
Upon this, the court remarked: “Asad Umar sahab, be content with the ECP today [as] they are favouring your stance today.”
Umar replied: “[Only] once the ECP gives [us] the chance to be happy.”
The court then asked if a full bench should be constituted for the case but Umar requested it not to.
At this point, Governor Rehman’s lawyer also appeared in the court and asked for additional time to submit a response to the court.
The court inquired of him: “How much time do you need? This is a matter concerning Pakistan’s people.” The lawyer answered that he needed a “minimum of seven days”.
Upon this, Umar opposed the granting of seven days’ time. “Granting seven days’ time means that 22 days would have passed since the [Punjab] assembly’s dissolution,” he asserted.
The court assured him: “You have come to the court so, you should relax; [granting] four-five days does not make a difference.”
Accepting the governor’s request, the court granted him additional time to submit a detailed response and directed him also to provide a copy to the petitioner (Umar).
Asad Umar’s media talk
Separately, talking to the media in Lahore today, Umar asserted that he was sure the verdict on when exactly the elections will be held would be given in the next hearing as it was a “simple case”.
He said there were three different options for what the dates will be and who will announce them: one being that the Punjab governor announces the dates as per the court’s possible verdict, or that the ECP does, or a third option possible according to the Elections Act 2017 that President Arif Alvi announces it.
“In the Elections Act, there is the possibility that the president can also give the dates”.
He directed the PTI candidates and workers to “not waste even a single day” in beginning the preparations for the elections, alleging that the government was trying to delay the party’s preparations.
Referring to the recent Peshawar Police Lines attack, he said, “As a Pakistani, the heart is being shattered at how my country is being injured.”
He conveyed sympathies from PTI Chairman Imran Khan and the rest of the party workers to the KP policemen and praised their courage for “facing difficult times and bestowing their martyrdom”.
Mentioning that the country’s import reserves have reached the “lowest point of Pakistan’s history”, he lambasted the federal government for arresting PTI-ally Sheikh Rashid and TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan and filing cases against PTI leader Shandana Gulzar.
He claimed that “all the resources” that should have been spent on the country’s security and economic situation are being focused on targeting the PTI and its supporters.