• Resolves to meet today again to chalk out line of action
• Endorses decisions taken by National Security Committee
• Ministers propose ‘hardline’ approach towards president

LAHORE: A meeting of the federal cabinet on Sunday decided to refer to parliament the issue of the release of funds to the Election Commission of Pakistan for holding elections in Punjab on May 14 as ordered by the Supreme Court.

The meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif at his Model Town residence continued for more than two hours. No agenda had been issued before the meeting.

Most cabinet members, including Riaz Pirzada, Sajid Toori, Maulana Abdul Wasae, Hashim Notezai and Amir Muqam, participated in the meeting through a video link. Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Azam Nazeer Tarar, Atta Tarar and others joined it from Lahore.

A strategy to address the matters surrounding the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023, besides the Punjab election funds, came up for discussion during the huddle.

A participant said that the cabinet could not agree on the suggestion that the funds should be partially released to avert any adverse Supreme Court ruling for violation of its April 4 verdict in which the federal government had been asked to release Rs21 billion by April 10 for holding polls in Punjab. He said the meeting decided to expand its consultation on the issue and referred the matter to parliament, whose joint session is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

He said the meeting also approved the decisions taken by the National Security Committee (NSC) on Friday regarding anti-terrorism operations to nip militancy in the bud. He said that at one point government officials were sent out of the meeting for some off-the-record discussion among the cabinet members.

He added that some members suggested not to compromise on the supremacy of parliament and proposed a hardline approach against President Arif Alvi, who sent back the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023 instead of signing it into law.

In a hint that the government is not ready to hold the polls as per the top court verdict, Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal said in Narowal that elections in the country would be held simultaneously in the month of October. He said holding polls in Punjab prior to other provinces would create trouble and the country had suffered results of such elections in the year 1971.

Talking to the media in Model Town, PM’s special assistant Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan said the government would take no unconstitutional steps. However, he said there were two apex court “verdicts: one by four judges and the other by three. And [the government is confused on] what is the real verdict?” He said Justice Athar Minallah’s decision raised many new questions.

He said the government believed in holding simultaneous general polls across the country. About the Constitution’s article that calls for holding polling within 90 days after the dissolution of an elected house, he said that there are also other articles in the Constitution that need to be fulfilled.

Indirectly criticising some “pro-PTI” decisions of the Supreme Court, he said the country is suffering from politics in courts and referred to Justice Minallah’s note which said that courts are not a forum for raising political questions.

Meanwhile, a press release issued after the cabinet meeting said that the huddle discussed in detail the court’s 4-3 verdict and also the resolution adopted by the National Assembly on April 6, 2023. It said Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar briefed the meeting about different legal and constitutional aspects.

After a threadbare discussion and consultation on the issue, the cabinet unanimously directed the finance ministry to consult the law ministry for preparing a summary to get guidance from the parliament on the matter and present it before the cabinet meeting to be held again on April 10 (today) for making a decision on the future line of action, concluded the statement.

Meanwhile, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb stated that significant decisions might be taken in the huddle today (Monday). A source in the government told Dawn that Sharifs were in complete mood to defy the CJP-led three-member bench’s decision to hold elections in the province on May 14 and there was no secret in it.

Syed Irfan Raza in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2023

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