ISLAMABAD: The chief justice of Pakistan on Thursday regretted that a constitutional body like the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) apparently needs capacity building since it is inactive, inert and non-assertive.

The observation came when CJP Umar Ata Bandial recalled how the government had recently approved a supplementary grant of Rs20 billion for development schemes of parliamentarians and the amount was the same as required by the ECP to conduct elections to the Punjab Assembly.

“The grant for MNAs is a good thing but the allocation means that ECP itself is inactive,” he observed while pointing towards ECP counsel Sajeel Shaharyar Swati. The CJP was heading a three-judge Supreme Court bench hearing the ECP petition seeking to revisit the court’s April 4 verdict of fixing May 14 as the date for Punjab Assembly polls.

However, Mr Swati argued that political temperature has gone even higher since the horrendous events of May 9, adding that as a result the ECP has to sit back to reassess the situation for holding the elections.

Wonders how long interim set-up can continue beyond 90 days

The CJP conceded that the May 9 incident was significant as it had badly affected the polity and something which needs to be addressed. But no indication [for holding polls] is in sight according to the belief of ECP, he observed, adding how much postponement or delay in the elections is tolerable.

The counsel apprised the court that all the ECP’s demands were turned down by the cabinet. While citing the Punjab government’s statement, he said the caretaker administration had taken the plea that sensitivity in the province had increased ever since the May 9 events and therefore the requirements of the commission would be curtailed further.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan wondered could the caretaker government be allowed to continue the entire term of provincial assembly like four-and-a-half years, if dissolved after six months of its election until the time the National Assembly completes its constitutional period so that elections to the National and provincial assemblies could be held simultaneously on the same day.

“Please show us any constitutional provision to show [that] unless the NA completes its tenure the provincial assembly will remain disenfranchised,” Justice Ahsan asked.

The CJP also wondered how a caretaker government could be allowed to continue beyond 90 days, adding that as the guardians of the Constitution the Supreme Court has to see for how long the Constitution has to remain in abeyance.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2023

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