Verdict due

Published April 4, 2023

WHAT new turn will the Supreme Court saga take today? A three-member bench of the Supreme Court is due to announce its verdict in the elections delay case, but the case’s proceedings were dogged by so much drama and controversy till the very end that no stakeholder will realistically be expecting the matter to be settled with a simple order from the court.

It was quite difficult to tell from Monday’s proceedings which way the court was leaning. There were indications that it was quite unsatisfied with the government’s justifications for delaying the KP and Punjab assembly elections over the pretext of not having enough security personnel or adequate financial resources for the electoral exercise.

Still, there is a possibility that the apex court may not take a categorical position for now due to the ongoing controversy over the chief justice’s discretionary powers and leave the matter to be decided at a different forum.

The question of a full court or larger bench deciding the maintainability of the elections delay case — which arose after several other Supreme Court justices publicly objected to the chief justice invoking suo motu jurisdiction on the matter and then constituting the benches to hear it at his own discretion — also remains unsettled.

Both the government and the ECP again demanded on Monday that the matter be taken up by the full court before the bench can rule on whether or not elections can be delayed.

However, though Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial indicated that he had reached out to his fellow judges and may be considering summoning the full court to set rules regarding suo motu powers and bench constitution, he suggested to the defendants that they ought to be seeking a larger bench to resolve the ‘4/3 or 3/2’ debate, as it has come to be known. But though he invited arguments in support of the proposal, it appears that the court eventually decided to reserve its verdict without making any decision on the matter.

It is, admittedly, all rather confusing — even for those who have been following the proceedings closely. The chief justice has a tricky conundrum to solve and he remains under immense scrutiny. It is hoped that he will find a way out of this crisis while keeping the integrity of his institution intact.

Again, it seems like a reasonable idea to convene the full court and settle the matter firmly once and for all. The question of when elections are to be held is one that concerns the citizenry’s fundamental rights.

However, the court has gotten entrapped in another debate altogether, which has made it difficult to rule on the original, rather pressing matter. The full force of its members may just be able to extricate it from the quicksand.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2023

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