ISLAMABAD: After political parties failed to initiate a dialogue to decide on a date for polls, as directed by the Supreme Court, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial will resume hearing the election delay suo motu at 11:30am today (Thursday).

At the last hearing, the court had asked political parties to hold talks on April 26 and come up with a response by April 27 after giving stakeholders a chance to reach an agreement. Political parties had been asked to decide the matter quickly, since the May 14 date for elections was still in the field and the order was binding on all authorities.

Since no talks were held and the government also refused to comply with the April 4 directive, political players as well as the nation are on tenterhooks, waiting for the court to make its next move.

On Wednesday morning, speculation was rife after the top court revised the roster for Bench-I for the day due to the unavailability of the CJP, who was slated to head a three-member bench comprising Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel to take up ordinary cases. However, due to the indisposition of the CJP, the bench was delisted.

PTI’s plea seeks treason proceedings against PM and cabinet; urges court to supervise affairs of Punjab, KP in place of caretakers

Consequently, a number of lawyers kept guessing whether the elections delay case scheduled for Thursday would be taken up or not, as the CJP was indisposed. The rumours gained mome­n­tum after it emerged that Bench-II, consisting of senior judges Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, was also not available.

It may be noted that alongside CJP Bandial, Justice Isa and Justice Masood are the senior-most judges of the apex court and also the members of the committee which, under the Supreme Court (Practice & Procedure) Bill 2023, would take stock of matters regarding the constitution of benches and suo motu cases.

Though the government notified the act recently, the Supreme Court suspended the enforcement of the law through an order of April 13 even before it was enacted.

The rumours were finally put to rest, however, after an announcement in the afternoon clarified that the CJP-led bench would only take up the case pertaining to the delay in polls and work in chambers for the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, other benches will take up routine matters. Bench-II will be consisting of Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Aminuddin Khan, and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel; Bench-III will comprise Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Ayesha A Malik, and Justice Shahid Waheed; and Bench-IV will consist of Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, and Justice Athar Minallah.

Similarly, two special benches will also sit in the principal seat of Islamabad consisting of Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Aminuddin Khan, and Justice Mandokhel, while the other bench will be consisting of Justice Akhtar, Justice Naqvi, and Justice Minallah. Meanwhile, a two-judge bench consisting of Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi will sit in the Karachi Registry.

Plea to restrain caretakers

Separately, two pleas were submitted to the apex court on Wednesday; one by the PTI seeking restraining orders against caretaker governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while another sought appointment of a caretaker prime minister and the chief election commissioner for transparent polls.

The PTI’s petition, filed by Tariq A Rahim and Imtiaz Rashid Siddiqui, asked the court to stop Punjab Caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi and KP Caretaker CM Azam Khan from exercising their power. It said that appropriate orders be issued to regulate day to day operations of the two provinces under the supervision of the apex court.

The petition argued that since the Constitution did not entitle any extension in the tenure of the caretaker government, the Supreme Court under Article 184(3) was bound to act in a manner which would ensure compliance with the Constitution.

The plea also sought proceedings against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the federal cabinet under Article 5 (loyalty to the State) and Article 6 (high treason) for refusing to allocate funds to the ECP.

Another petition filed by Zahoor Mehdi Faisal sought the removal of Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, PM Shehbaz Sharif, PDM leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and President Dr Arif Alvi, calling them “partisans”.

Therefore, the apex court, the petition pleaded, by exercising its authority should appoint a caretaker prime minister as well as CEC to hold free and fair by-elections within ten days on the proposed date without the assistance of the Rangers and the armed forces.

It pleaded that the present case was fit to be heard by a full court, adding the demand of the ECP for Rs21 billion and the assistance of the military for the election duty was “intended to damage the state”.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2023

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