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Only SC can postpone polls: CJP remarks

The Supreme Court resumed hearing PTI petition challenging the Election Commission of Pakistan’s decision to postpone elections in Punjab until October 8, as the coalition government filed a “concise statement” in the court urging the bench to recuse itself from hearing the case.

The case is being heard by a smaller bench consisting of Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and Justice Munib Akhtar.

Just before the hearing began, the government filed a statement in SC through the Attorney General of Pakistan Mansoor Awan, requesting that PTI petition be dismissed in light of what it interpreted as a “4-3” order issued by the apex court on March 1.

The Supreme Court ruled on March 1 in a 3-2 decision that elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, which have been under caretaker governments since the provincial assemblies were dissolved in January, should be held within 90 days.

The government, on the other hand, had disputed the court directions, calling the verdict 4-3 instead after Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah — two of the four judges who had written additional notes in the Feb 23 order raised objections to the bench’s composition as well as the chief justice’s invocation of the apex court’s suo motu jurisdiction.

The government sought to “object to the maintainability and hearing of the petition for being based on misreading and mistaken understanding of the March 1 order” in its “concise statement” submitted to the court.

The statement insisted: “In order to determine the true import of the March 1 judgment, the chronology of events leading up to that day must be considered.”

It also claimed that the president’s announcement for the Punjab elections on April 30 was based on a “misreading of the same judgment.”

The government also asked that the current bench recuse itself from the case and that a new full-court be formed to hear it.
The hearing

As the hearing began today, AGP Mansoor Awan, ECP lawyers Irfan Qadir and Sajeel Swati, PTI lawyer Ali Zafar, and PPP counsel Farooq H. Naek were present in the courtroom.

Finance and interior ministry secretaries were also present.

Naek took the rostrum at the start of the hearing. Justice Bandial asked the lawyer if the PPP’s boycott of the court hearing had ended, to which the lawyer replied that he had not.

“How can you boycott [the hearing] on one hand and attend it on the other?” Justice Akhtar wondered. “For the past 48 hours, the media has reported that political parties have expressed dissatisfaction with the bench.

“How will you present your arguments if you don’t trust us?” The judge asked, and then stated, that the court would only hear Naek if he withdrew the statement issued last week by coalition leaders expressing “complete no-confidence” in the bench.

Justice Akhtar also requested that Naek read the joint statement and expressed his displeasure with the language used.

The CJP then asked the PPP lawyer if he wanted to participate in the proceedings, to which Naek replied positively and stated that “we never boycotted the hearing.”

“However, something else was written in the newspapers,” Justice Bandial pointed out. Naek responded that his party had reservations about the petition’s viability.

The CJP insisted, however, that Naek confirms in writing that he had not boycotted the hearing.

Turning to the AGP, Justice Bandial inquired about the instructions he had received, to which Awan responded that the government was bound by the Constitution and could not boycott the proceedings.

Following that, AGP Awan began presenting his arguments. The lawyer emphasized that the PTI petition was based on the Supreme Court’s March 1 decision, in which the apex court directed the president to choose a date for elections in Punjab and the governor to choose a date for elections in Punjab.

“However, the KP governor never set a date until the petition was filed,” he noted.

“Even in 1988, elections were postponed on court orders,” he said, adding that court orders were issued based on “ground realities.”

“The order you are referring to here [the Supreme Court’s March 1 verdict] has already been executed,” Justice Bandial noted.

The actual matter under consideration, according to Justice Ahsan, was the ECP’s decision to postpone elections, noting that the commission was bound to follow court orders.

AGP Awan recalled that the first round of hearings on the court’s suo motu proceedings on elections in Punjab and KP was conducted by a nine-member bench.

“On February 21, we received the court’s order, which included dissenting notes from two judges.” “The case was dismissed by the two judges in the first hearing,” he explained.

The CJP, however, intervened and stated that only one judge had dismissed the proceedings. “In his dissenting note, Justice Athar Minallah did not mention rejecting the request,” he said.

“Justice Yahya Afridi had agreed with Justice Minallah in his note,” the AGP contended, to which Justice Bandial responded that the court understood Awan’s position.

Justice Akhtar recalled that on February 27, a nine-member bench had submitted the matter to the CJP for reconstitution, with Justice Ahsan adding that the bench was reconstituted with five judges.

The AGP accepted judge’s observation

Meanwhile, the CJP clarified that he was not required to select the previous members and noted that the order referred to by the AGP was a minority decision.

The AGP, for his part, argued that no court order was issued on March 1, prompting Justice Bandial to ask if Awan believed that a five-member bench was never formed.

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