View of the Supreme Court building. — APP/File

View of the Supreme Court building. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: A three-member bench of the Supreme Court is hearing the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) review petition challenging the apex court’s April 4 order of setting May 14 as the date for holding elections in Punjab.

Despite repeated directives by the top court, the order could not be implemented. Instead on May 3, the election commission filed an application for a review of the court’s decision.

Headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar, the three-member bench of the apex court — which is also the same bench that passed the order of conducting Punjab polls on May 14 — is hearing the review petition in which the ECP had contended that the appointing of the date for the election is not the mandate of superior courts under the Constitution.

During the previous hearing, on May 15, the apex court bench had criticised the ECP for not maintaining the same stance and opening a “pandora’s box” of questions.

The bench had further reiterated its desire that both parties resolve the matter through negotiations.

“Bring a solution to the narrative that is being made by both sides,” the CJP had instructed.

Today’s Hearing

At the onset of the hearing, ECP’s legal counsel Advocate Sajeel Shehryar Swati took to the rostrum.

He shared that the responses of the federal and Punjab governments had been received; however, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had not submitted a written reply.

“No reply has been provided to me in advance,” he said.

To this, CJP Bandial asked: “Do you need our help to know what is stated in the replies?”

He then directed the ECP’s advocate to first explain how new grounds could be taken in the revision petition — an issue raised in the previous hearing as to why the “pandora’s box” of questions against the SC’s powers had been brought up in the hearing when it was not raised initially by the ECP before the court.

“The Supreme Court’s rules have been made by the Supreme Court itself in adherence to the Constitution and the Supreme Court cannot exercise powers outside the criminal and civil jurisdiction,” Advocate Swati responded.

He further said that Article 188 which pertains to the SC’s authority to review its judgement does not limit, but rather extends the powers of the apex court to review a petition.

At this, the CJP responded: “The Constitution allows the Supreme Court to review its decisions, now go ahead.”

During today’s hearing, PTI submitted its response to the ECP’s review petition, asking the apex court to reject it.

In its response, PTI contended that the Election Commission had raised new points in the review petition, which “could not be done”.

“The commission wants the Supreme Court to revive the doctrine of necessity, which cannot be,” it stated.

It further contended that Article 224 — which calls for holding elections of an assembly within 60 days of its dissolution — could not be ignored in light of Article 218.

It added that the Constitution didn’t make it mandatory to hold all the elections simultaneously nor could the Supreme Court could amend the Constitution as per the ECP’s wishes.

‘Such dangerous arguments have been used before to break the Constitution, and the court has always rejected them,” it concluded.

The petition

In its petition, the electoral body has further maintained while such power exists elsewhere under the Constitution, it does not lie in a court of law and there is inherent wisdom in this division of power.

The electoral watchdog had further submitted that under the Constitution, the power of the announcement of the date for the general elections is vested in bodies other than any judicial institution, and, therefore, the impugned order under review, has breached the salient principle of the trichotomy of powers and thus is not sustainable.

Elections — principally a domain of the election commission under Article 218(3) of the Constitution read with other provisions of the Constitution, the conduct of elections is the sole responsibility of the Election Commission of Pakistan, the ECP had contended.

The ECP had submitted that in the presence of an elected government in Punjab, the general elections to the National Assembly cannot be conducted fairly, justly and in accordance with the reasons that the elected government in Punjab, for instance, will surely be able to influence the outcome of the general elections to the National Assembly, with all the resources at its disposal.

“Therefore, fair elections cannot take place in the presence of an elected government in Punjab”, the review petition had stated adding that the voter/electorate is likely to vote in favour of the candidates of the political party which has the elected government in Punjab.

Meanwhile, the federal government and Punjab Government on Monday filed their replies, adopting the stance taken by the ECP in its review petition.

More to follow…

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