Apex court gives parties a week to pick date for polls

Published April 21, 2023
From left to right: Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Munib Akhtar. — Supreme Court website/File photos
From left to right: Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Munib Akhtar. — Supreme Court website/File photos

• CJP optimistic politicians will agree to election date ‘sooner rather than later’; says April 4 order still in the field
• Qureshi opposes ‘open-ended dialogue’; ruling parties favour talks for simultaneous elections

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday afforded a temporary respite to the country’s main political parties, giving them a week to develop a consensus on the date for elections to the provincial and national assemblies, so they could be held simultaneously across the country.

Headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, a three-judge bench consisting of Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar sought a progress report on April 27 abo­ut the upcoming meeting of political leaders slated for April 26.

The directions came after Atto­r­ney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan, along with Senator Farooq Naek, met with judges in chambers on Thursday evening — as directed by the court earlier in the day — to app­rise them of deliberations among senior cabinet members and their int­er­action with the PTI leadership.

The AGP and Mr Naek reques­ted a recess on account of the Eidul Fitr holidays, because several political leaders and party heads had already left or were leaving Islamabad for their hometowns. But a meeting is scheduled for April 26, they assured the judges.

Around the same time, a number of lawyers, PTI leaders and senior officers of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) were patiently waiting inside Courtroom No.1, believing that the judges will assemble in court since the CJP — before closing morning proceedings — had fixed further hearing for 4pm. The parties waited until 5:20pm, when the court staff informed them that the proceedings would be held on April 27.

Political parties impress CJP

Meanwhile, in an order that was released later, the CJP obse­r­ved that positive statements of lea­ders representing all major pol­itical parties with respect to the simultaneous conduct of general elections “gives cause for optimism that they would agree to the election date sooner rather than later”.

“We are cognisant that if political dialogue extends to address all grievances, then it is likely to be a lengthy process and the correct forum for that is the political arena and political institutions,” the order said, adding that the court did not find any reservations to the negotiations being centred solely on a one-point agenda, namely, consensual fixation of election date for which was a constitutional and legal question.

The court stressed that it was important that such a result was accomplished expeditiously because its order to fix election to the Punjab Assembly on May 14 was in the field. Since the judgement holds the field, therefore, its ruling was binding on all judicial and executive authorities in the country under Article 189 and Article 190 of the constitution, the order reiterated.

Need for flexibility

Earlier, Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq — who recently met Prime Minister Imran Khan and PTI Chairman Imran Khan — told the court that dialogue and consultation was not just an option in public affairs, but a duty as enunciated in the Holy Quran.

For a political dialogue, it was essential for all participants to be flexible about their respective positions and the approach of the parties should not be dictated by ego or pride, he said, suggesting a timeframe under which two important events ought to be accounted for: firstly, the wheat harvesting season in May and secondly the occasion of Haj.

According to him, general elections could be held immediately thereafter, tentatively sometime in July. “We can emerge victorious… if the polls were held in a way that no one could point fingers… this was only possible if PDM coalition partners, as well as the PTI, take a step back from their stated positions.”

If the constitutional mandate of 90 days could now become 105 days then there is no harm if the same is further extended to 205 days, he suggested. Mr Haq also clarified that he was not acting on the establishment’s behalf.

On behalf of the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP), Farooq H Naek stated that a process for conducting dialogue has been initiated within the coalition partners and that it was agreed that heads of all political parties will meet with the opposition parties to arrive at a consensus date for simultaneous elections.

Khawaja Saad Rafique appeared on behalf of Pakistan PML-N and endorsed the statement of the PPP leader and expressed the willingness of his party to enter into negotiations with all political parties for elections simultaneously.

Likewise, PPP’s Qamar Zaman Kaira, Engineer Sabir Hussain Kaimkhani of the MQM-P, Tariq Bashir Cheema of the PML-Q, Israrullah Tareen of the BAP, and Sardar Ayaz Sadiq of the PML-N who was instructed to speak on behalf of the BNP-Mengal, also addressed the court and supported the views expressed by Farooq H. Naek and Saad Rafique.

Opposed to open-ended process

Meanwhile, senior PTI leader Shah Mahmood Hussain Qureshi assured the court his party was willing to move forward within the framework of the Constitution to negotiate a date for the simultaneous elections.

However, he emphasised that the process of negotiations should not be open-ended and not be turned into a ploy for delaying elections, which was the apprehension of his party. He also emphasised that such a process should be regulated by a timeframe to ensure that the outcome was accomplished expeditiously, failing which the court’s decision for May 14 elections should be complied with.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2023

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