ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court office on Monday returned a PTI-instituted petition seeking ele­ctions to the Khyber Pakhtun­khwa Assembly within the stipulated period of 90 days by citing reasons that respondents in the case were not informed “properly” about reasons for filing of the petition.

On April 6, PTI secretary general Asad Umar, along with the assembly’s ex-Speaker, had moved the top court to seek polls within the 90-day period.

The petition challenged the KP governor’s March 24 announcement as well as the ECP’s March 27 notification declaring Oct 8 as the date for elections.

Through its April 4 judgement of fixing May 14 as the new date for elections, the apex court had allowed PTI to approach any forum as deemed appropriate for seeking relief since the matter was not adjudicated upon.

SC office says respondents were not ‘properly’ informed, cites other procedural lapses

But the SC’s assistant registrar returned the petition by citing procedural lapses, for example the petitioner has not affixed court fee along with the plea and added some illegible pages while some other pages contained overwriting or cutting.

One of the grounds mentioned in the registrar’s objection is that the notice issued to the respondents was not properly drawn as it was not mentioned therein that for what purpose the petition was being filed nor copy of the petition was provided to the respondents.

The Election Commission, minis­t­ries of interior, law and finance, and the governor and the chief secret­a­­ry of KP were mentioned as respondents.

The petition regretted that announcement of Oct 8 for polls was an exercise contrary to the mandate of Constitution and thus amounts to depriving the petitioners and all citizens of the province of their fundamental right to contest and participate in the elections.

The petition emphasised that reasons given by the governor and ECP regarding unavailability of funds or law and order situation to conduct the polls being not conducive were legally flawed and a disingenuous excuse to delay the exercise since such reasons were not recognised in the Constitution.

Giving power to the governor or ECP to delay the elections on the pretext of law and order situation would mean that elections could be delayed indefinitely and forever, which was not warranted.

What is the assurance that security situation will improve by the arbitrary date of Oct 8, the petition wondered, fearing the postponement of elections by six months would only worsen the security situation.

The petition emphasised that maintaining law and order was the responsibility of federal and provincial governments and there could be no excuse for them to say that they could not provide required security for the date of elections or prior to it nor could the ECP rely on such a pretext to delay the election.

Under Articles 148(3) and 220 as well as Section 50 of the Elections Act 2017, it is the responsibility of federal and provincial governments as well as all executive authorities, including the caretaker government in KP, to ensure that elections are held in 90 days regardless of any law and order situation. In fact, it is their obligation to provide the necessary security and ensure law and order, the petition maintained.

If law and order can be made an excuse for delaying the elections then such a precedent would become a legal mandate for a caretaker government to continue to extend its tenure by insisting that it is unable to provide security for maintaining law and order for the elections and thereby continue to indefinitely extend its tenure, the petition said.

Moreover, the so-called excuse for law and order would mean that the Constitution can always be held in abeyance on this ground every time the elections are due.

The Constitution also does not recognise financial constraint as the reason to delay the election, the petition emphasised, adding that polls were at the core of the Constitution and fundamental to democracy without which the constitutional machinery cannot work.

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2023

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