Parliament has given its verdict on elections, says Khawaja Asif

Published April 19, 2023
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif speaks in an interview on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif speaks in an interview on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said on Wednesday that parliament had given its verdict on the matter of elections in Punjab — an issue on which the executive and the judiciary have reached an impasse.

"Parliament has given its verdict. There is no ambiguity about it," he said during an interview on DawnNews programme 'Live with Adil Shahzeb' when asked about the possibility of the Supreme Court (SC) upholding its decision to hold elections in Punjab in May.

Elections to the Punjab Assembly, as well as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, have been due since January when both houses were dissolved.

On April 4, the SC had ruled that polls in Punjab should be held on May 14, after the Election Commission of Pakistan decided to defer them to October 8. The court observed that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was bound by the law and Constitution to hold elections within 90 days of the dissolution of an assembly and directed the government to release Rs21 billion to the ECP by April 10 for holding polls in Punjab and KP.

However, the government referred the matter to Parliament which defied the court’s orders and refused to issue the funds. The court then directed the State Bank of Pakistan to release the funds, but the central bank, despite having allocated the amount to the ECP, has not been able to release the funds as it needs the federal cabinet's approval.

Meanwhile, the federal cabinet — which requires the National Assembly's (NA) approval for the release of the said funds — has managed through the lower house of parliament the rejection of its own demand for the provision of Rs21bn as a supplementary grant to the ECP for holding polls in the two provinces.

A day earlier, the defence ministry submitted a report to the apex court, highlighting the need to hold elections to the provincial and NA on the same day given the heightened security situation in the country. It also said that the armed forces would be able to carry out election duties by early October.

Along with the report, the ministry also submitted a plea, requesting the top court to recall its April 4 order.

The plea was taken up by a three-member SC bench today, which declared the application inadmissible.

When asked about the matter today, Asif said it was the SC's prerogative to give its verdict on the matter of elections, but the parliament, too, had given its verdict.

The defence minister said parliament was the "mother of the Constitution" and a "reflection of the public's aspirations", and hence, it "predominates" over other constitutional institutions.

Asked what was to happen if a deadlock persisted between the judiciary and the government on elections, Asif replied, "Then God will provide a way out."

He added that if constitutional institutions were in a deadlock, "they need to realise the gravity of the situation and then make decisions accordingly".

In reply to another question, he said elections could part of a probable comprehensive dialogue with the opposition, "but specific dictation is not acceptable".

He also said the prospect of elections before October was "not even on the table".

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