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SC tells govt to ensure polls on time

February 01, 2013

The Supreme Court of Pakistan. — AFP Photo

ISLAMABAD, Jan 31: In a bid to quell the growing unease in the country that democracy may be derailed, the Supreme Court ordered the military and civilian high commands on Thursday to refrain from doing anything that might delay the upcoming general election.

The court also accused NAB Chairman Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari of committing contempt for the contents of a letter he had written to President Asif Ali Zardari.

“The elections must be held strictly in accordance with the Constitution and that there must not be any apprehensions of derailment of democracy as expressed in the media by some highly reputable parliamentarians like Raza Rabbani,” said an order issued by a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Visibly hurt by the contents of the strongly-worded letter in which the NAB chief had accused the superior judiciary of influencing the bureau’s investigation into the rental power projects (RPP) scam, the court had on Wednesday asked him to submit an authentic copy of the letter.

When NAB’s Prosecutor General K.K. Agha submitted the letter on Thursday, he was asked by the bench to read it out in the open court.

After that the court dictated a longish order tracing the entire history of the RPP case and citing different orders and developments which had taken place during the proceedings, including the mysterious death of NAB investigator Kamran Faisal.

The court then issued the restraining injunction and said: “The executives both civilians and the military shall not take any action or steps that tantamount to deviation of elections in the name of taking actions against the judiciary or its judges or on the basis of the letter written by the chairman NAB.”

The executives were also held back from introducing any system (of governance) in the country not recognised by the Constitution.

To explain further the verdict cited newspaper reports and their analyses suggesting how a situation was being created by writing the letter to first take on the judiciary and then to delay the elections to achieve the ulterior motives.

This is not the first restraining order against the civilian and military authorities. A seven-judge SC bench had on Nov 3, 2007, restrained the then army chief, corps commanders and staff officers and the prime minister and other civilian authorities from taking actions contrary to the independence of the judiciary.

Similarly, the apex court had on Oct 19, 2010, restrained the government from withdrawing the March 16, 2009, executive order under which judges of the superior judiciary were reinstated.

Thursday’s verdict also cited paragraphs from the NAB chairman’s letter questioning the functions of the Supreme Court as well as allegations that members of the superior judiciary were influencing the coming elections.

“This court on different occasions always insisted upon the enforcement of the rule of law, the supremacy of the Constitution and the continuance of the democratic order,” it said.

Citing the March 8, 2012, verdict in the Workers Party case in which the Election Commission of Pakistan was asked to introduce reforms in election laws, the court once again sent a loud and clear message that there should not be any delay in the forthcoming elections and it should be held in a free, fair and transparent manner strictly in accordance with the Constitution without any interference or obstacle from any quarter.

“We the judges are confident that there would not be any delay of any nature,” the order said and emphasised that being custodian of the Constitution the apex court was concerned that no-one should undermine the authority and respect or to bring the honour of this court into hatred. “This court undoubtedly enjoys the confidence of the citizens of this country.”

CONTEMPT NOTICE: The court issued a contempt notice to the NAB chairman under Article 204 of the Constitution read with Section 3 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 and asked him to appear before it on Feb 4.

This is not the first contempt notice issued to Admiral Bokhari. Earlier on Sept 14 last year, the court had asked him to appear before it and explain why he should not be arraigned under contempt charges for not implementing its verdict in the RPP case.

If the court is not satisfied with the explanation, it can indict Admiral Bokhari for committing contempt and initiate a trial in the open court till he is finally adjudged to be a contemnor.

Section 19 of the contempt law, however, provides an intra-court appeal before a larger bench which can suspend the conviction or any impugned order pending disposal of the appeal. Under Section 2 of the same law, a contemnor can tender apology at any stage and the court, if satisfied, can discharge the proceedings.

“Whatever he has expressed in the letter, tantamount to causing interference with or to obstruct the process of the court and has used certain expressions to scandalise the court and its performance with an object to undermine the authority of the court and to bring it into hatred of the general public who approaches the court for decision of their cases,” the order said.

If the move, the verdict said, was not noticed, the people will lose their confidence.