President to give date for Punjab polls after consulting ECP, governor to announce for KP: SC

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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court, in a split verdict, ruled on Wednesday that elections for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Punjab assemblies should be held within 90 days.

The direction was given by the apex court in the suo motu notice verdict which was announced by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial today. 

A five-member bench headed by CJP Bandial and comprising Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Shah, and Justice Mandokhail reserved the verdict after conducting hearings for two consecutive days — Monday till Tuesday.

In a three-two split decision the bench gave relief to the petitioners in the case, while two of the bench members objected to the admissibility of the pleas. The opposing members are Justice Jamal Mandokhail and Justice Mansoor Ali Shah have dissented from the majority verdict. 

Delivering the verdict, the SC stated that the Constitution has given a 60and 90 day period for conducting the elections after the dissolution of assemblies and that the procedure of the general elections is different.

“Elections within 90 days after dissolution of assembly are mandatory,” CJP Bandial stated.

The court stated that the KP Assembly had been dissolved after the governor signed the summary, while the Punjab Assembly had dissolved on its own after 48 hours as the governor did not sign the summary.

The top court had taken suo motu notice on the issue over the election date as to who — the president, governors, or the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) — is responsible for fixing the date in case the provincial assemblies are dissolved.

After two-day long hearings, the court reserved its verdict at around 6:30pm Tuesday as the parties involved in the case wrapped up their arguments.

The top court had also asked the political parties — the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the ruling alliance — to agree upon a mutual date for the elections, but the counsel for Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)  told the court that it is not the job of political parties to fix election date.

However, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) lawyer asked the court to continue the proceedings as the coalition partners needed more time to consult with each other.

The SC had taken the suo motu notice of an apparent delay in the elections of the two assemblies, on February 23, following President Arif Alvi’s announcement of the date of polls, a move that drew strong criticism from the government.

As per the CJP, the suo motu notice had been taken to assess who was eligible to issue the date for polls and who had the constitutional responsibility of conducting elections and when.

It is important to note that four judges had objected to the constitution of the bench and suo motu jurisdiction under Article 184(3) and wrote dissenting notes after the initial hearing on February 23. 

Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Justice Mansoor Ali ShahJustice Yahya Afridi and Justice Athar Minallah had requested the chief justice to form a new bench to hear the case.

Moreover, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Afridi, Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, and Justice Minallah dissociated themselves from the case.

Last hearing

During the hearing o Tuesday, Justice Mandokhail remarked that Article 48 of the Constitution states that every act and step taken by the president would be on the government’s advice.

CJP Bandial seconded Justice Mandokhail’s remark, saying that the deciding a date for the polls would be based on the advice under Article 48.

Moreover, President Arif Alvi’s lawyer Salman Akram Raja said that his client has decided to withdraw his advice for the general elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as the province’s governor had dissolved the assembly — unlike Punjab, where the governor did not.

“The president has stated that it is the right of the governor to issue the election date,” Raja said.

Raja conceded that the president went beyond his constitutional powers and that he did not have the right to announce the election date in KP, adding that President Alvi gave the election date according to the constitution and law.