Elections in Punjab, KP to be held in 90 days, rules Supreme Court
Elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, both of which have been run by caretaker governments since the provincial assemblies were dissolved in January, must take place within 90 days, the Supreme Court (SC) ruled on Wednesday.
The chief justice of Pakistan (CJP), Justice Munib Akhtar, and Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar delivered the majority judgment, which was announced today. Two of the four judges who had added additional notes to the Feb. 23 order, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, disagreed with the decision. The top court ruled in a written decision, a copy of which is available, that when a governor dissolved a provincial assembly, the governor was responsible under the constitution for setting the election’s date.
“Parliamentary democracy is a salient feature of the Constitution. There can be no parliamentary democracy without Parliament or the provincial assemblies,” the ruling said. “And there can be neither Parliament nor provincial assemblies without the holding of general elections as envisaged, required and mandated by and under the Constitution and in accordance therewith”.
“In situations where the assembly is not dissolved by order of the governor, the constitutional responsibility of appointing a date for the general election that must follow is to be discharged by the president.”
The president or governor “must discharge the constitutional responsibility of appointing a date for the said election swiftly, without any delay, and within the shortest time possible,” the court ruled, because elections after the dissolution of a provincial assembly had to be held within a certain amount of time. The order stated that the Election Commission “shall be promptly available to the President or the Governor, and shall be prepared for such consultation as may be required for a date for the holding of general elections.” The document continued by stating that due to the governor’s refusal to sign the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly, the president would be in charge of fulfilling the constitution’s requirement to set a date for the general election.
But regarding the dissolution of the KP Assembly, the verdict continued, the constitutional responsibility for appointing a date for elections was to be discharged by the governor.
“It further follows that the order of the president dated Feb 20 is constitutionally competent and it applies to the Punjab Assembly, but the same is constitutionally invalid insofar as it applies to the KP Assembly and is therefore hereby set aside.
“It also follows that the governor of KP, in as much as he has not appointed a date for the holding of the general election to the assembly of that province is in breach of his constitutional responsibility,” the order highlighted.
It further said that in ordinary circumstances, the general election in Punjab ought to be held on April 9 — the date given by the president — but because there were delays in the announcement of the poll date, it might not be possible for the province to meet the 90-day deadline.
“The Election Commission is therefore directed to use its utmost efforts to immediately propose, keeping in mind ss. 57 and 58 of the 2017 Act, date to the president that is compliant with the deadline. After consultation with the ECP, the President shall announce a date for holding the general election to the Punjab Assembly.
“If such a course is not available, then the Election Commission shall in like manner propose a date for the holding of the poll that deviates to the barest minimum from the aforesaid deadline,” the order said.
Meanwhile, the SC directed the KP governor to appoint a date for elections in the province after consulting the ECP.
The top court also instructed the federal government to “ensure that the government of every province is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution”.
“The federal government is inter alia obligated on an immediate and urgent basis, to forthwith provide the Election Commission with all such facilities, personnel and security as it may require for the holding of the general elections,” it said.
Subsequently, the court disposed of the matter.
In a joint dissent note, which is available, Justice Shah and Justice Mandokhail said that the suo motu proceedings initiated by the CJP were “wholly unjustified”, besides being initiated with “undue haste”.
The note stated that the suo motu proceedings “do not constitute a fit case to exercise the extraordinary original jurisdiction of this court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution and are thus not maintainable as the same constitutional and legal issues seeking the same relief are pending and being deliberated upon by the respective provincial high courts in Lahore and Peshawar, without there being any inordinate delay in the conduct of the proceedings before them”.
“There is no justification to invoke our extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 184(3) to initiate suo motu proceedings or entertain petitions under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, as a single Bench of the Lahore High Court has already decided the matter in favour of the petitioner before the said High Court vide judgment dated 10.02.2023 and the said judgment is still in the field.
“The intra-court appeals (ICAs) filed against the said judgment are pending before the Division Bench of the Lahore High Court (and none of the said petitioners has approached this Court under Article 185(3) of the Constitution),” it said.
The judges explained in their note that when a constitutional was pending before a high court, it should not be interfered with and should rather be supported to strengthen the autonomy of provincial courts.
They also maintained that there was no “inordinate delay in the proceedings pending before the high courts” — as said by the CJP in previous hearings — adding that the instant proceedings of the SC had delayed the matter in the high court.
“However, considering the importance of the matter we expect that the respective high courts shall decide the matters pending before them within three working days from today,” the note stated.
“We, therefore, agree with the orders dated Feb 23 passed by our learned brothers, Yahya Afridi and Athar Minallah, and dismiss the present constitution petitions and drop the suo motu proceedings,” the dissent note concluded.
Ahead of the verdict today, Room No.1 of the court — where the much-anticipated decision was announced — was packed with journalists and lawyers. PTI’s Shireen Mazari and Fawad Chaudhry and Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid were also in attendance.