• Rules out talks with Imran, polls before Oct; demands formation of full court
• Coalition considering reference against members of SC bench, says minister
LAHORE: The constitutional crisis in Pakistan deepened on Saturday as the ruling coalition in the Centre, led by PML-N, hinted that it would not accept the decision of the Supreme Court bench hearing the case regarding provincial polls, and also alluded to the possibility of moving a reference against Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial and two other members of the bench.
At a crucial huddle with allies from the PDM alliance and PPP, held in the PML-N’s headquarters at Model Town, the federal coalition expressed “complete no-confidence” in the three-member bench, calling upon the court to discontinue the proceedings of the case forthwith.
The meeting declared that there would be “no talks” with PTI chief Imran Khan on a date for elections and pledged to take the fight to any level, refusing to budge from its stated position on the issue — no elections before October 2023.
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, who is in Dubai for medical treatment, participated in the meeting via video link, which was chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz and representatives of PDM’s component parties Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Akhtar Mengal, Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Dr Khalid Magsi, Aftab Ahmad Sherpao, Shah Awais Noorani, Mohsin Dawar, Ameer Haider Hoti, Aslam Bhotani, Tahir Bashir Cheema, Tahir Bizenjo and Tariq Bashir Cheema also attended the meeting via video link.
Federal ministers Azam Nazeer Tarar and Ishaq Dar briefed the moot on the legal and financial aspects of the issue.
A statement issued by PML-N after the meeting said “a complete distrust had been shown in the three-member bench of the SC comprising CJP Bandial, Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar”.
“The huddle demands wrapping up [of] the three-member bench’s proceedings regarding delay in elections to the Punjab Assembly forthwith and acceptance of the four-member majority decision in the suo motu case,” it said.
It pointed out that there had been a “clear division in the SC, therefore it should refrain from issuing controversial political decisions”.
The moot stressed that there should not be any impression that CJP Bandial and some other judges were supporting Imran Khan’s PTI.
The meeting urged the judges to remove their differences before advising the politicians to do so.
“Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan had already recused himself from this bench voluntarily, therefore, he should not be part of it. The CJP needs to look into the dissenting voices of the other SC judges and form a full court to hear the case to end the impression of one man show,” the statement read.
The coalition reiterated its demand of holding elections to all assemblies simultaneously. “On the whims of a political party [PTI] the conspiracy to create political and constitutional crises is not acceptable. Ignoring economic, security and constitutional matters to give relief to a particular party seems to be a political agenda and in contravention of the state interest,” it said.
The alliance reminded the SC that it cannot interfere in the matters of the Election Commission of Pakistan, which is an independent institution, adding that the same has also been observed by four SC judges.
The meeting also declared that the verdict given by the three-member bench regarding Article 63(A) had caused political instability in the country as it had attempted to “re-write” the Constitution.
It demanded action on the references filed by the Pakistan Bar Council and other associations under Article 209.
SC ‘a party’
Talking to the media after the meeting, Maulana Fazlur Rehman alleged that the SC had become a party in this case, therefore, the federal coalition did not have trust in it.
“On moral grounds, the CJP and other two judges [of the current bench] should also recuse themselves of this case,” he demanded.
In an indirect reference to two former top military officers, Maulana Fazl said: “The two main characters of 2018 polls riggings are roaming around but no one is taking notice of this.”
The PDM president said the coalition had decided in principle not to hold any talks with Imran Khan regarding holding elections. “There will be no talks with any criminal,” he declared.
During court proceedings a day earlier, the CJP had urged the government and the opposition to lower the political temperature and engage in dialogue.
According to a party insider, Nawaz Sharif was more critical of the apex court and suggested boycott of the three-member bench and moving a reference against these judges. “The federal coalition was unanimous on one point — there would be no elections in Punjab and KP separately — despite the apex court’s order,” a party insider told Dawn.
He said all the participants pledged to take the fight to any level, adding that they would not let anyone ‘dictate’ as to when the elections in Punjab and KP should be held.
Separately, in an interview with Independent Urdu, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah confirmed that the possibility of filing a reference against the three judges had been discussed at the huddle, but a final decision was yet to be taken.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2023