Govt calls on CJP to review election ruling

Published March 23, 2023
Members of the ruling coalition hold banners decrying former CJP Saqib Nisar during a joint session of parliament, held on Wednesday.—Courtesy PML-N
Members of the ruling coalition hold banners decrying former CJP Saqib Nisar during a joint session of parliament, held on Wednesday.—Courtesy PML-N

• Interior minister asks SC to hear reference filed against sitting judge
• Allies, opposition call on ruling party to convene MPC, invite Imran
• Parliamentarians protest against former CJP Saqib Nisar during joint sitting

ISLAMABAD: The government on Wednesday pleaded with Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial to “review” the March 1 ruling regarding holding of elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, warning that split polls would further deepen political crisis and create chaos in the country.

The request was made by Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah during a policy statement delivered at a hurriedly-called and low-attended joint sitting of parliament, hours before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) formally announced the postponement of the April 30 elections in Punjab.

While pleading his case, the minister gave a couple of references from the history when previously elections were delayed for more than constitutionally-mandated 90 days, besides asking the judiciary to improve its public image in the wake of recently released controversial audio leaks purportedly containing some serving and retired judges talking to various persons on corruption cases and some administrative matters.

The interior minister recalled that the 1988 elections were delayed by five to six months due to floods in the country whereas again in 2008, the general elections were put on hold following the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

On March 1, the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court had declared through a majority decision that elections to the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies should be held within the stipulated period of 90 days. It had, however, allowed the ECP to propose a poll date deviating from the 90-day deadline by the “barest minimum”, in case of any practical difficulty.

Taking advantage of the one-sided proceedings in the absence of a meaningful opposition, the minister lashed out at Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan for allegedly making an attempt to create a “political and administrative” chaos in the country.

While referring to recent clashes between the PTI supporters and police in Lahore and Islamabad, the minister accused the cricketer-turned-politician of wanting “bloodshed” in the country to advance his political agenda.

After the minister’s nearly an hour long speech, the lawmakers belonging to the ruling coalition parties as well as the opposition expressed their serious concerns over the prevailing political and economic crises in the country and asked the government to respond positively to Imran Khan who had reportedly shown his willingness to sit with his rivals for the sake of “greater national consensus”.

A number of lawmakers from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were seen carrying placards inscribed with slogans against former chief justice Saqib Nisar with his pictures. The members also raised slogans “shame, shame” while standing on their seats when the interior minister mentioned the name of the former chief justice in his speech.

After delivering the speech, the interior minister along with other ministers left the house for an emergency meeting of the federal cabinet.

The minister refuted the impression that the present coalition government was “avoiding” polls, terming this notion “principally wrong”.

Stating that the government was placing the matter before the parliament for guidance, Rana Sanaullah said the government had no intention to disobey the Supreme Court, informing the house that the PML-N had already sought applications along with Rs100,000 fee from aspiring candidates and that the party had already received 1,100 applications.

“We can’t think of rejecting your order […] but is it only the responsibility only of parliament and political parties that elections are free and fair? If we are giving our opinion that such an election will bring instability and anarchy. Is this opinion not even worth your consideration and reflection?” he asserted.

The minister said the government only wanted polls to be held in accordance with the Constitution under a caretaker setup for political and economic stability instead of “creating a new crisis”, arguing that whichever political party would come into power in Punjab, would “reduce the level playing field” for other parties in the general elections to be held for the National Assembly.

“Will Punjab not dictate the federal government then? Will that government or party — whether us or someone else — not gain an edge, and won’t the basic constitutional requirement of a free and fair caretaker setup not be violated?” he asserted.

Sanaullah also talked about the CJP’s reported remarks earlier in the day wherein he had warned that the apex court would intervene if there was any ill intention in holding “transparent elections” and that the audio leaks were a part of the campaign against judiciary.

He alleged that those making hue and cry over the audio leaks today had previously released videos and audios of former National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal for blackmailing him.

Referring to the reference filed against a sitting Supreme Court judge by the lawyers’ bodies after release of an alleged audio tape, the minister asked the CJP to hear and decide the case within days, recalling that the court had previously taken up a reference against another sitting judge Qazi Faiz Isa and his family. At that time, he said, the judges had stated that the truth should come before the public, then why this time it should not happen. He said if the allegations against the judges which had come to the surface after the audio leaks proved to be wrong then the accusers should be punished.

The interior minister then turned his guns towards Imran Khan accusing him of trying to create a “political, administrative and judicial crisis” in the country. Calling Mr Khan a Fitna (mischief), the minister alleged that the PTI had attacked the law enforcing agencies personnel at Zaman Park in Lahore and outside the Federal Judicial Academy in Islamabad resulting in injuries to a number of security personnel.

He informed the house that the police had already arrested 316 persons for arson and riots and these people would be tried under terrorism laws.

Taking the floor, Senator Tahir Bizenjo of the National Party (NP) asked Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to take initiative and invite Imran Khan for talks after the latter has expressed his willingness to sit with the parties.

Ghaus Bux Mahar of the opposition Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) asked Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to play his role in bringing the politicians to the negotiating table to discuss the future elections. Mr Mahar also criticised Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif over his absence from the joint sitting.

An independent MNA from Gwadar Aslam Bhootani while expressing his concerns over the ongoing campaign against state institutions, including army and judiciary, asked the government to withdraw a “curative petition” that had been filed by the previous PTI government against the decision of the Supreme Court in the reference against Justice Qazi Faiz Isa. He said that the government should take back the petition as a “goodwill gesture” as Justice Isa was set to become the next chief justice of the country.

The speaker then adjourned the joint sitting till March 27.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2023

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