Divisions Erupting Within 3-Member 'Like-minded' SC Bench, Senior Journalist Reports

Divisions Erupting Within 3-Member 'Like-minded' SC Bench, Senior Journalist Reports
Tensions remained high throughout the day today (Thursday April 27) as the "like-minded" bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC), led by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Umar Ata Bandial, was poised to hear the case on the government's refusal to kowtowing to judicial edict on holding Punjab provincial elections on May 14. The court also heard a petition from the government requesting more time, and concluded today's hearing without any outcome that could have further destabilized the already poisonous political atmosphere, as CJP announced that the court would give no timeline and would issue an appropriate verdict.

While it may seem that the ball is now in the court of political forces, both inside parliament and those agitating outside the system, reports are emerging that the "like-minded" clique of SC judges aligned with CJP Bandial may itself be fracturing.

Senior journalist Imran Waseem reported on the proceedings that took place today (April 27) at the Supreme Court, where all major mainstream political parties rushed to seek more time to begin negotiations in order to break the impasse that Pakistan has been stuck in for over a year.

The attorney general for Pakistan impleaded before the apex court to grant the government more time. At this, CJP Bandial remarked that "you have some hours of time today, you can try and sit together, try to negotiate with each other and resolve matters amicably". The CJP was hopeful of a positive outcome, and adjourned the hearing till 2pm in the afternoon.

The attorney general requested for time till 4pm, which the court granted. Thereafter, the hearing did not continue in open court, but in the CJP's chambers, according to Imran Waseem.

He reports that in chambers, only CJP Bandial and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan were present, and Justice Munib Akhtar was not there. The public reason behind this was Justice Akhtar having a prior commitment in Karachi for which he had a "confirmed plane ticket", but sources told Imran Waseem that a division is now simmering within the 3-member SC bench of "like-minded judges". This represents a further fracturing of the institutional credibility and functional legitimacy of Pakistan's apex court, as divisions and groupings within the SC have been reported for months now.

According to Imran Waseem, Justice Munib Akhtar could not be convinced to delay his trip to Karachi and hear this "important national matter" in open court. Insiders say that Justice Munib Akhtar already conveyed his position to CJP Bandial that the SC had issued a verdict on the election date which, according to his (Justice Akhtar's) legal acumen and understanding of jurisprudence, was final and must be implemented. Sources privy to these extremely sensitive discussions purported that Justice Munib Akhtar saw no point in even entertaining petitions from political parties asking for time to negotiate.

Justice Munib Akhtar was of the view that the SC judgment ordering Punjab elections on May 14 was constitutional and lawful. Justice Akhtar not only wants CJP Bandial to ensure that the judgment is implemented, but is urging the CJP to invoke the SC's power under Article 190 of the Constitution to "ensure compliance" by the federal government.

Senior journalist Imran Waseem recalls that on April 19, Justice Munib Akhtar gave some harsh remarks in open court, stating that the National Assembly failed to pass a bill authorizing additional expenditure of Rs 21 billion for the Punjab elections, which implied that premier Shehbaz Sharif had lost the confidence of the house. According to analysts, the SC order of that day also appeared to have been authored by Justice Munib Akhtar, who questioned whether Shehbaz Sharif could continue as prime minister or not.

In response to that, PM Shehbaz received 180 votes from the National Assembly in a surprise vote of confidence today. Moreover, the National Assembly resolved to turn down the third and 'final' order from the Supreme Court to authorize funding for the elections they ordered in a controversial judgment.