The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan to immediately announce the date for elections in Punjab.
Pronouncing the much-anticipated verdict reserved earlier in the day, LHC Justice Jawad Hassan ruled that the ECP was bound to carry out elections within 90 days of the assembly’s dissolution and that it should issue the election schedule.
“The ECP is directed to immediately announce the date of election of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab with the notification specifying reasons, after consultation with the governor of Punjab, being the constitutional head of the province, to ensure that the elections are held not later than ninety days as per the mandate of the Constitution,” reads the court verdict, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com.
The PTI had on Jan 27 approached the LHC seeking orders for the Punjab governor to immediately announce a date for an election in the province since the assembly had been dissolved on Jan 12. The ECP had recommended the elections be held between April 9 and 17.
Legally, an election must be held within 90 days of an assembly’s dissolution.
The petition, filed through PTI General Secretary Asad Umar, stated at the time 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.
PTI Vice President Fawad Chaudhry welcomed the “historic” decision, saying that it was a victory for the Constitution and the law. “The federal government should sit with us and discuss the national election,” he said.
PTI Senator Faisal Javed also celebrated the verdict, saying the people would make their decisions in the election.
Meanwhile, speaking on Geo News show Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Sath, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said the government has nothing to do with when the elections should be held.
“This is between the ECP and courts,” he added.
However, he said that the government believed that if the general and provincial elections were held together later, they would be more free, fair and acceptable.
“The results will be accepted and there will be weight in those elections,” he said, adding that if the elections are held early, people who lose will resort to long marches and staging protests.
“If the election is held, we are ready for it. Be it April, October or together, we will contest it.”
‘How can we hold elections in such circumstances?’
In the hearing today, Justice Hassan asked about the chief secretary and inspector general of the Punjab police, saying they were also summoned.
The two officials arrived at the courtroom as the proceedings were under way.
The IG told the court that he was not aware of the case background.
“We will implement whatever decision the ECP takes in this regard,” the senior cop told the judge.
The court said it was looking forward to such an assurance from the police chief.
The chief secretary also reiterated the stance adopted by the IG, saying he was also bound to implement the ECP and court orders.
The commission’s counsel raised objections to the admissibility of the petition, saying the plea pertained to an announcement of the election date, which he said was not the domain of the ECP.
He argued that the commission could not be made a respondent in the plea.
The counsel said the LHC had itself stated that it would not issue an order whose implementation was complex.
He contended that neither the president nor the federal government had been made respondents in the petition.
“The police, judiciary, and other institutions have refused to sanction staff for poll duties. How can we hold elections in such circumstances?” the counsel asked.
He said the election date had to be given either by the governor or the president. “We require Rs14 billion for the whole electoral exercise in the province,” the ECP lawyer told the court.
He pointed out that the elections of provincial assemblies and the lower house could not be transparent if they were held on separate days.
“It is not written anywhere in the Constitution that the ECP will give the date of general elections,” he argued.
When he spoke, Punjab governor’s lawyer Shehzad Shaukat said he had submitted a written reply to the court on behalf of his client.
In his reply yesterday, the governor said that he was not obligated to announce a date for the general election in the province as he had not dissolved the provincial assembly on the chief minister’s advice.
The governor had said he never dissolved the provincial assembly in terms of Article 112 of the Constitution; therefore, the provisions of Articles 105(3) and 224, which deal with the announcement of a date for election by the governor, would not apply in the case at hand.
Shaukat had submitted the governor’s reply in a petition filed by Munir Ahmad, a lawyer.
Rehman’s counsel told the judge today that the governor was bound to announce the election date only if he dissolved the assembly.
He urged the court to reject the PTI petition.
PTI’s lawyer Barrister Ali Zafar submitted that it was clearly written in the Constitution that the polls should be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the assemblies.
Justice Hassan asked about the criteria for the announcement of the election date.
Barrister Zafar said a notification had to be issued carrying a date of the election.
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said the ECP statement claiming it lacked funds to hold polls was “ridiculous”.
This statement is frivolous and tantamount to denting the reputation of the country at the international level, Chaudhry told the court.
PTI’s counsel requested the court to omit the inclusion of the statement related to the unavailability of funds as part of the case record.
After hearing arguments from both parties, the court reserved the verdict on the petition.