The apex court asks CEC to submit written
reply today about problems he is facing; SC says Punjab, KP polls in 90 days
ISLAMABAD: Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja on Thursday informed the Supreme Court that efforts were being made to curtail the powers of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
The ECP chief made the statement when he appeared before the Supreme Court in a case related to the transfer of former Lahore capital city police officer (CCPO) Ghulam Mehmood Dogar.
He was summoned by the apex court to explain the reasons behind the Dogar’s removal.
During Thursday hearing, Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan asked why the CCPO was removed despite orders of the Supreme Court and what was the hurry in issuing the transfer orders.
The lawyer for the Punjab government informed the bench that Dogar was transferred on the orders of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
At this, Justice Ahsan asked what role the ECP has in the transfer of officers. While Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi remarked that the ECP’s role comes into effect after the elections have been announced.
Additional advocate general told the court that they had taken approval from the ECP over Dogar’s removal as a caretaker setup had been placed.
“As per the Constitution, elections have to be held within 90 days after a caretaker setup takes over,” said the lawyer.
At this, Justice Ahsan asked where the ECP was, while Justice Naqvi remarked that half of the officers posted in Punjab had been transferred.
“Is there any district of Punjab where there has not been a transfer,” asked Justice Naqvi.
Meanwhile, Justice Ahsan wondered whether the ECP was aware of the Supreme Court’s orders on Dogar’s posting.
“Election Commission is doing everything apart from its job,” remarked Justice Ahsan.
The bench after issuing the summons adjourned the hearing for an hour.
Once the hearing resumed, CEC Raja appeared before the bench.
Justice Ahsan told the ECP chief that the constitution clearly mandates that elections are to be held within 90 days. He added that holding polls is the ECP’s job and if they are not held within the stipulated time then it would be a violation of the Constitution.
“There is no confusion in the Constitution on elections being held within 90 days,” said Justice Ahsan. He also added that in the Constitution it was clear that the interim government is not empowered to remove officers.
The judge also remarked, if a transfer is required then the caretaker government needs to provide concrete reasons. He added that the ECP must examine those reasons and then issue an appropriate order.
“Election Commission does not have to follow the orders of the province,” said Justice Ahsan.
At this, the ECP chief told the bench that if the court wants they can restore Dogar as the CCPO.
The CEC said that the ECP did not allow appointments and transfers in the entire province under a single policy. He added that it was important to transfer some commissioners, deputy commissioners, regional police officers and others to “ensure free and fair elections”.
“If the court gives an order then we will not allow the transfers,” said Raja.
On this, Justice Ahsan remarked that the court will not issue any such orders, adding that they were bound to follow the Constitution.
CEC briefs SC on election hurdles
The issue of delay in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also came under discussion during the hearing when the court reminded the ECP chief about his duty to hold polls within 90 days.
At this, Sikandar Sultan Raja briefed the court about hurdles faced by the commission from different institutions.
“Efforts are being made to curtail the powers of the ECP,” said Raja. He added that the army has refused to provide security during polls when requested, and the judiciary has denied providing staff while the government is not giving funds.
“ECP’s authority is being curtailed. How can free and fair elections be held?” asked the CEC.
At this, Justice Ahsan asked whether the electoral body had contacted the government.
The CEC replied that they had informed the government about all the issues faced by the commission.
The court then summoned the record of all the transfers, including Dogar’s, okayed by the ECP in Punjab. It also asked the CEC to appear again tomorrow (Friday).
On his summoning, the attorney general asked the bench if it was not necessary then the CEC can skip tomorrow’s hearing.
“If the court allows, the secretary or a senior officer can appear in my place,” asked the election commissioner.
“You are head of the institution, appear in person, we will hear from you,” remarked Justice Ahsan and directed him to provide all details tomorrow.
The bench also directed him to inform the court about obstacles in the way of the election.