(L-R) Justice Munib Akhtar, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan. — SC website
(L-R) Justice Munib Akhtar, Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan. — SC website

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial warned that if the talks between the government and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) failed then the Supreme Court would use the Constitution to implement its verdict of holding elections in Punjab on May 14.

The warning was issued when CJP Bandial resumed the hearing of the petition seeking simultaneous elections across the country.

Apart from the CJP, the three-member bench also includes Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar.

At the outset of the hearing, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan arrived at the rostrum and shared that the government has submitted its response on the talks with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). He then said that Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawyer Farooq H Naek would brief the court about the negotiations.

Naek informed the court that the federal government had filed a combined petition regarding the date of the Punjab elections.

Briefing the court about the negotiations held in the office of Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, Naek shared that the former had played the role of a “facilitator” during the negotiations.

He shared that there had been five rounds of negotiations between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the ruling alliance.

“The coalition parties informed PTI about the current economic situation in the country and the ongoing negotiations with the IMF,” Naik said. He added that the PTI also agreed on the dire economic situation.

He then said that while the ruling alliance had agreed to dissolve the National Assembly in August, “more time is needed for negotiations.”

In response to this the CJP inquired, why the IMF agreement had been emphasised in the government’s response.

“The issue in the court is constitutional, not political,” he remarked, adding that the court leaves the political matter to the political parties.

Instead, he asked that the ruling alliance explain why the approval of IMF agreement and trade policy is so important in the matter.

In response, Naek said that the IMF loan was “necessary for the budget.” He contended that if the assemblies were dissolved, the budget would not be approved.

“If the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assemblies had not been dissolved, this crisis would not have occurred,” he said, adding that the “crisis” was also wasting the court’s time.

Naek maintained that resolving the matter through understanding was the best recourse.

The chief justice then asked whether the IMF loan would be added to the government’s fund reserves or be used in the repayment of debts.

“The finance minister can give this answer,” Naek responded.

He then asked the Senator Naek: “Has PTI recognised or rejected the importance of the budget?”

The chief justice remarked that no one can deny that the Constitution mandates elections be held within 90 days of the assembly’s dissolution.

The PPP lawyer agreed and added that there were no two opinions on the issue.

“This is a matter of complying with the Constitutional along with one of public importance. The court has given a decision on holding elections in 90 days,” CJP Bandial said, adding that he had heard the position of both sides on television last night.

However, he warned that were the negotiation to fail, the court would not sit idle and would ensure that the elections are held on May 14, as per the Constitution.

“We will use the constitution to ensure that the court’s order is followed,” he said, adding the court is performing its duty.

The chief justice defended the top court’s role in the matter and addressed accusations of “not abiding by the Constitution” levelled against it.

“It was said that in the past, the court did not respect the Constitution which caused damage,” he said while referring to the statements made in the National Assembly. However, he said that the court always respected everyone’s opinion and did not respond to any of the criticism.

“We do not even get angry, because if we do our decisions may be affected.” He asked Naek to compare the level of the conversation at the court and at the National Assembly.

Naek then said that the court will have to re-examine the issue of conducting elections within 90 days.

“It is necessary to have caretaker governments for elections, or no one will accept the results of the elections,” he maintained.

“When the [case began] on February 23 you started pointing fingers. All these points were not raised at that time?” said CJP Bandial. He also slammed the government for not taking the constitutional process “seriously”.

Naek responded: “We were not heard by the court.”

At this the top judge replied that when the apex court had started the hearing, the government had boycotted it.

He said that after the boycott, the SC also bid “good bye” to the government.

He said that the government never tried to get a judgment on the matter previously and had, instead, consistently argued whether the petition has been rejected or accepted.

“When Justice Athar Minallah raised the point of restoring the assemblies, the government was not interested,” the CJP lambasted.

“Just look at today’s conversation, no one is talking about rulings or law,” said the top judge. He further censured the government for failing to file a review petition after the court had initially announced the election date.

“The government is showing interest in politics and not in law,” remarked CJP Bandial, adding that great sacrifices are being made for the sake of the country.”

“We lost six soldiers yesterday, this is our great loss, he said, “Apart from the economic situation, we are facing an important problem of security as well.”

If the politicians are left to their own devices, where will the constitution go? He asked.

PTI lawyer Barrister Ali Zafar, who was also part of the negotiating team, informed the bench that his party took part in the parleys with seriousness. He added that both the government and PTI have shown an inclination for holding polls on the same day but warned that the government might use the negotiations to prolong the issue.

“Everyone has to follow the decision of Supreme Court,” said Zafar. However, he added that when they asked the government to inform the court about dissolution of National Assembly they did not agree on it.

“Whatever the Supreme Court rules we will accept it [but] Supreme Court decision should be implemented,” said Zafar. 

After Zafar, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique came to the rostrum and told the bench he’s not a lawyer so he may not be able to address the court properly but would speak the truth.

“With respect, since 2017 Supreme Court committed injustices against us,” the minister said, adding that they did not want confrontation with institutions.

“The Constitution mentions about holding polls in 90 days but also talks about free and fair elections,” Rafique said, warning that polls in Punjab will create more problems.

“We have lost half the country over elections once. Holding polls in one province may be destructive,” the minister said.

He added that polls were delayed during the 1988 floods and after the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Rafique also asked the court that the government had filed a review petition on Article 63-A case.

“We are putting up that petition attorney general has been informed about it,” responded CJP Bandial, adding that if this case is wrapped up then the Supreme Court can look into other matters.

“If more time is granted then a [better] situation might arise,” said the minister. He added that involving courts in political matters creates problems.

“First Zia, then Musharraf and the recent veiled martial law ended [as well] so this time will also pass by,” said the minister.

CJP Bandial responded that elections were held during major wars, and in Turkey despite an earthquake. He added that the things being told to the court could have been said in written.

“The budget could have been presented in May. It is not necessary that the budget should be presented on June 30,” said the top judge.

Moving on, CJP Bandial said that the issue must be ended for the sake of the country.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader responded that there is consensus on three points and it will be developed on the fourth one as well.

“The current break in ongoing talks is not that huge,” said Rafique.

The government then requested more time for the talks and urged the court not to issue any directions after the case.

More to follow…

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