'Supreme Court Decision Will Not Be Implemented'

'Supreme Court Decision Will Not Be Implemented'
LAHORE: The federal cabinet has rejected the Supreme Court’s (SC) order declaring null and void the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision on postponing the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) assembly elections from April 30 to October 8.

The SC decision was announced by a three member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan as well as Justice Munib Akhtar. The SC judgment ordered that elections for the Punjab provincial assembly be held on May 14.

In its decision, the SC stated that the ECP's order dated March 22 was declared to be unconstitutional, without lawful authority or jurisdiction, void ab initio, of no legal effect, and is hereby quashed.

The SC verdict further stated that neither the Constitution nor the law empowered the ECP to extend the date of elections in Punjab province beyond the 90 days period as provided in Article 224(2) of the Constitution. 

“The general election to the Punjab Assembly stands revived and restored immediately with a few modifications,” the verdict reads. 

The SC also directed ECP to hold elections in Punjab on May 14 instead of April 30, and directed the federal government to release funds amounting to Rs. 21 billion to ECP by April 10. 

The apex court asked ECP to submit a report in this regard by April 11, and also directed the government to share the security plan with ECP by April 17.  

Federal government mulling proposal to file references against CJ and "like-minded" judges

Sources privy to government deliberations confirmed to TFT that the federal cabinet is also mulling over a proposal to file references against Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and his "like-minded" judges whose biases are now clear. 

“Prime minister Shehbaz Sharif is in touch with coalition partners and PMLN supremo Nawaz Sharif in this regard,” a cabinet member told TFT

A parliamentary session of all parties has also been called on Wednesday, in which legal and constitutional aspects of the decision are likely to come under debate. 

Govt to challenge SC decision in light of new legislation

The government is also mulling over a proposal to challenge the SC verdict in light of the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill 2023, which has been passed by the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan, and is awaiting assent from President Arif Alvi before it becomes law. 

Not forming larger or full bench 'shows CJ’s bias' 

Sources maintained that the manner in which CJP disregarded the advice of the governing Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition and lawyers' bodies shows an inherent bias, that he and some other judges had already made up their mind. 

The verdict said that, "in particular, our attention has been drawn to the detailed reasons of the two learned judges in minority (released on 27.03.2023), wherein it is, inter alia, stated that the said matters were decided (and dismissed) by a majority of 4:3. Respectfully, the position as claimed by the learned judges in the minority is erroneous and not sustainable in law.” 

A federal cabinet member told TFT that the bench headed by CJP very skilfully neutralised the 4:3 judgment, which had dismissed the petition, and declared it a 3:2 verdict instead. 

Federal minister for law and justice Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar said that the demand of a full court was made by the lawyers of all the parties, and it was a justified demand which was ignored by the honorable court, after which a three member bench announced the date of elections on its own

“55 percent seats are in Punjab and the elections should be held together in the whole country,” Tarar said, while adding that eyebrows were raised over the previous elections and "we must learn from our mistakes". 

Federal government also decides to take up Bhutto murder reference

Prime minister Shehbaz Sharif also condemned today’s SC decision and said that the cabinet has decided to take up the matter of the judicial reference on the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto murder, which is pending since more than decade now, and said that there was no doubt that it was "a judicial murder". 

 “Today is April 4, the date on which Bhutto’s judicial murder took place. Again it is April 4, and today we witnessed the murder of the constitution and justice,” the PM said on the floor of the house. 

Agreeing with the premier, federal minister for railways Khawaja Saad Rafique said that Bhutto’s death sentence, along with disqualification of Mian Nawaz Sharif, was made possible only by judicial verdicts. 

“The court decision should be on the basis of constitution and law, and not on the basis of doctrine of necessity," Rafique said on the National Assembly floor. 

He maintained that Imran Khan was removed in a constitutional manner through a vote of no confidence. "We sacrificed our political capital to save the country from Imran Khan, who had brought the country on the brink of decline," Rafique maintained. 

SC decision will 'not be implemented' 

Sources maintained that, like the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s decision to reinstate CCPO Lahore Ghulam Mehmood Dogar - which wasn’t implemented - the decision to hold elections on May 14 will not be implemented either. 

“Caretaker Punjab government, IGP Punjab and other law enforcement agencies had already informed that they don’t have the required number of personnel for election duty,” sources said. 

‘Emergency may be imposed too’

Sources further confirmed to TFT that the decision has also been made that, in case the government and other concerned authorities failed to get any relief from courts, then an emergency could be declared in the country as a last resort. 

“Powerful quarters are seriously considering this option as a last resort if they don’t have any other choice, but elections of two provincial assemblies alone will not take place,” sources told TFT

Petition against judges skipping seniority in elevation to SC also on the cards

Well-informed quarters also confirmed to TFT that soon, a petition would also be filed against the elevation of some judges to the SC after skipping the seniority list. For instance, the cases of Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, Justice Ayesha A. Malik, Justice Shahid Waheed, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi would relate to such a petition. 

“There has to be some rules and yardstick, even if someone is elevated to SC by ignoring merit based on seniority. The rules should be decided, and it could be the conduct, decisions, ability to understand the cases, previous verdicts etc. of the judge. But all that has to be decided, in the absence of which merit should be followed,” a senior lawyer said. 

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy. He also hosts the Hassan Naqvi Show on Naya Daur.