SC says will no backtrack from April 4 verdict, warns of consequences if funds not provided for elections

SC says will no backtrack from April 4 verdict, warns of consequences if funds not provided for elections

Islamabad (Web Desk): The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday said that the top court cannot go back on its April 4 order as it issued notices to all political parties, including for the hearing on Thursday.

A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar heard the petition filed by the defence ministry regarding elections in Punjab, scheduled for May 14.

At the outset of today's hearing, CJP Umar Ata Bandial asked the attorney general of Pakistan (AGP) to read the finance ministry’s report out loud in the courtroom.

The CJP said that the government had stated that the funds required for the elections would be issued via a supplementary grant, however, the "matter was sent to the parliament".

The AGP replied that the finance committee had referred the matter to the cabinet and the parliament.

Justice  Munib Akhtar asked how could the government be barred from approving the grant and added that the premier should have a majority in the NA as it is mandatory to have a majority in financial matters.

He said that the government had a right to issue a supplementary grant under the Constitution and asked how could the assembly intervene in the matter.

Justice Munib further said that the finance ministry's team had stated repeatedly that the approval for the supplementary grant could be sought later and wondered how the grant could be rejected by the lower house.

In his remarks on the AGP's reply that funds need to be approved or are otherwise classified as "unconstitutional, the CJP said that there was no previous instance of referring such administrative matters to the standing committee and funds spent on polls were a "necessary" expenditure.

He said that the ECP had stated that polls in the two provinces of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) could not be conducted till October as the watchdog had stated security concerns.

"Terrorism has been present in the country since 1992," said the chief justice as he observed that polls have been held in the country despite terror threats.

Giving an example of the elections in 2008, shortly after the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto, Justice Bandial asked what new danger was present to not hold polls in the country.

The CJP observed that top court proceedings regarding the matter at hand began on March 27 and wrapped up on April 4. “First it was a matter of 4-3 and then of a full court,” he remarked, adding that while there was a “boycott” of proceedings, no one raised the issue of security.

The AGP said that the director general of military operations gave a briefing at his request.

CJP Bandial remarked that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief and the defence secretary were also present in the briefing. He said that the officials were told that this matter was not raised during the hearing. “Everyone was told that [the matter] has been decided and we cannot go back on it,” he said.

CJP Bandial said the requests by the ECP and the defence ministry were not sufficient to withdraw the directives.

He said that the ECP had initially said that it would conduct polls if it was provided with funds.

“Now, they are saying anarchy will spread in the country,” he said, adding that the electoral watchdog wished to open the whole case once again.

Commenting on the report submitted by the defence ministry, the CJP said that it had a “strange” stance. “Can the ministry of defence make a request holding elections simultaneously in the country?” he asked, terming the ministry’s plea to be “not maintainable”.

AGP Awan said Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had called on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Islamabad yesterday, adding that efforts were afoot to initiate political dialogue. All ruling parties, apart from one, are willing to talk with the PTI, he said. He added that Bilawal would meet with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman in this regard today to convince him on negotiations.

He said that if matters were resolved then there might not be a need for so much security. Awan added that the matter could be resolved if the court gave some time.

CJP Bandial said that the AGP’s stance had some weight. He said that the court could “make some room” if all political parties were united in their stance.

The CJP said that the matters could not be delayed further since the Eidul Fitr holidays were near, adding that his fellow judges were of the opinion that the five days were enough to settle matters.

Advocate Shah Khawar pointed out here that the apex court’s orders were not implemented for one reason or the other, adding that their implementation was necessary.

“People are confused and tense. The application is filed to rid the people of their agitated state.

The entire country should have elections at the same time. Many complications will arise if elections are held separately,” he said, adding that provincial governments would influence the polls.

Here, CJP Bandial questioned him why the AGP had not raised this point instead of focusing on the matter of the 4-3 verdict. “We will ask the AGP who prevented him from taking this stance,” the chief justice said to which Khawar said the conditions could still be ideal if political parties united.

“If it is about the negotiations then you can’t be stubborn about Oct 8. Nothing can be unilateral, political parties will have to have a bigger heart. The 90 day period [for holding elections] has passed on April 14,” the chief justice said, adding that it was constitutionally mandated to hold elections within 90 days of an assembly’s dissolution.

“You think this is a matter of political justice in which the decision will be made by the people.

You are suggesting that the political parties should negotiate. The government did not respond when the court asked for assurance. The government spoke positively for the first time today,”

CJP Bandial observed and said the court was issuing a notice to political parties for tomorrow (Thursday).

The chief justice pointed out that a question was also raised on the continued tenure of caretaker governments beyond 90 days.

The court subsequently called Faisal Chaudhry to the rostrum and he was asked whether the PTI was willing for negotiations to which he replied: “Siraj ul Haq came to Zaman Park and the next day our party’s Sindh president (Ali Zaidi) was arrested.”

The chief justice remarked that a “level playing field” for the polls could be achieved if all political parties were satisfied on an election date. “Look at the pain and anxiety caused to the nation,” he added.
Chaudhry responded that the nation was looking towards the apex court and had high hopes from it.

The hearing was subsequently adjourned to 11:30am tomorrow (Thursday).

The Ministry of Defence on Tuesday filed a petition seeking elections across the country on the same date and requested the court to withdraw its order directing Punjab polls on May 14.

It is pertinent to mention that the same bench on April 4 announced the verdict directing the government and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold elections in Punjab next month.

The defence ministry, along with the application, also issued a report in the top court, highlighting the need of holding the elections on the same day in view of the heightened security situation in the country.

The ministry in its report also said that the armed forces would be able to carry out election duties by early October.

As per the report, due to the prevalent security situation and counter-terrorism operations being carried out in KP and Balochistan as well as the intelligence-based operations in Punjab and Sindh, the armed forces, Rangers, Frontier Constabulary and other forces are not logistically available to be repositioned and re-posted for providing election security, twice in a span of six months.

"Significant time is required to prepare the members of the armed forces for the election duty, given much of the force has been actively engaged in operations for a considerable period of time," the application said, adding the security situation in Punjab and Sindh has been stable in the light of the efforts of the ongoing operations in KP and Balochistan, respectively.

Therefore, any diversion of troops from KP and Balochistan will result in directly affecting the security situation in Punjab and Sindh, the application explained.

On Tuesday, the ECP, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and the Ministry of Finance submitted their reports to SC regarding the provision of funds for elections in Punjab.

As per the report by the electoral body, the state bank has failed to transfer the funds of Rs21 billion by April 17.

Meanwhile, the SBP submitted its own account detailing the reasons behind its failure in releasing the amount.

The Finance Ministry, through the Attorney General's Office, also submitted its report on the matter and included the details of the federal cabinet's decision to return the matter to the parliament.

Moreover, the ministry also informed the apex court of the assistance provided to the SBP and the relevant legal aspects related to the transfer of funds.