ISLAMABAD: The Supre­­me Court has emphasised that postponing general elections to address constituency delimitation issues could lead to a vacuum in governance, and a potential crisis of legitimacy.

“Such a situation would be antithetical to the principles of democracy and the larger good of the populace. Therefore, the principle of proportionality and the concept of the larger good demand that general elections be given primacy,” Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah observed on Wednes­day in a judgement he authored, to explain why the apex court on Dec 18 preferred not to get involved in disputes relating to delimitation of constituencies in Balochistan.

“When the election programme is announced, it is important for any litigation or legal challenges related to elections to be resolved promptly,” he said, adding that issues concerning the delimitation of constituencies, though important, should be addressed subsequent to the elections.

“This approach ensures the continuity of democratic governance and upholds the fundamental rights of the electorate, while still acknowledging the need for eventual and necessary adjustments in constituency boundaries,” the judge observed.

Justice Mansoor explains why apex court avoided getting mired in election-related disputes

Justice Shah was a member of the three-judge bench, headed by Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and also consisting of Justice Athar Minallah, which had taken up an appeal filed by Gul Khan against the Dec 12 Balochistan High Court order.

The BHC had on Dec 12 allowed Saeed-ur-Rehman’s petition by declaring as void the Nov 26 delimitation order of the Election Commission of Pakistan with a directive for the ECP to notify the final delimitation (Form-7) for both constituencies, in the following terms: PB-I (Sherani-cum-Zhob): Sherani district plus Patwar Circles Babar and Murgha Kibzai of Zhob district as well as PB-II (Zhob); and Zhob district minus Patwar Circles Babar and Murgha Kibzai.

In the detailed order, Justice Shah observed that delaying elections or prolonging legal disputes can undermine public confidence in the electoral process and democratic system as a whole. It can also create uncertainty and potentially destabilise the political environment.

“Democracy rests on the sovereignty of the people which is exercised through free and fair elections held on a regular basis,” Justice Shah said, adding that the elections were of central importance without which the government was not democratic.

“The constitutional democracy is nurtured by free and fair elections and timely elections are the hallmark of a functioning democracy. Thus elections are essential to maintain democratic process and public trust in the system,” Justice Shah emphasised, adding that the elections played a crucial role in upholding the principles of democracy and ensured that the will of the people was respected and that leadership was accountable to the public.

“It is in the background of this significance of the elections in a constitutional democracy that the court attends to the questions: whether it should proceed with and adjudicate upon the controversy of delimitation of constituencies or be mindful and lay its hands off this matter at present and take it up for adjudication after the general elections so that the electoral process set in motion is successfully completed without any hindrance,” explained Justice Shah.

“It is well-established in democratic systems that general elections are the cornerstone of representative governance, ensuring people’s right to choose their leaders and influence policy decisions. The periodic conduct of these elections is not merely a procedural necessity but a fundamental principle upholding the democratic ethos,” Justice Shah observed.

But on the other hand, he said, the delimitation of a constituency, although significant for ensuring fair and effective representation, did not hold the same immediacy or overriding importance as the conduct of general elections.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2023

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