On Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected the defense ministry’s plea to hold general elections across Pakistan simultaneously after the terms of the national, Sindh, and Balochistan assemblies ended.
The court also cautioned the government about “serious consequences” if it failed to provide the required funds for conducting elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while hearing the defense ministry’s request.
On the previous day, the defense ministry filed an application asking the apex court to recall its April 4 order that set May 14 as the election date for the Punjab Assembly and issue directives for holding general elections to all national and provincial assemblies on the same date.
Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.rejected
The defence ministry’s report was also submitted along with the application to the Supreme Court, complying with the court’s order to the State Bank of Pakistan and other departments to provide reports after releasing Rs21 billion to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for conducting elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In the report, the ministry argued for holding the elections on the same day due to the current high security situation in the country. It also mentioned that the armed forces could conduct election duties by early October.
Security Situation KP and Balochistan
The armed forces, Rangers, Frontier Constabulary, and other security forces are unable to provide election security twice in six months due to the ongoing security situation, counter-terrorism operations in KP and Balochistan, as well as intelligence-based operations in Punjab and Sindh. This is due to the logistical unavailability of the forces to be repositioned and redeployed.
The application further added that a considerable amount of time is needed to prepare the armed forces for election duties as they have been actively engaged in operations for an extended period. The ministry also noted that the security situation in Punjab and Sindh has stabilized due to ongoing operations in KP and Balochistan.
The defence ministry’s plea to hold simultaneous general elections across Pakistan has been declared inadmissible by the Supreme Court. The court also warned the government of potential consequences if it failed to release the required funds for conducting polls in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.rejected
The defence ministry had filed an application requesting the apex court to issue directives for all general elections to be held on the same date, but the court rejected the plea, citing a final judgment on the matter.
The defence ministry issued a report in court highlighting the need for simultaneous elections due to the heightened security situation in the country, and the armed forces’ need to carry out election duties.
The court reiterated the proceedings of the Finance Division and confirmed that the federal government had the authority and power to authorize the expenditure of Rs21 billion for election expenses. The AGP did not dispute this position.rejected
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has deemed the defence ministry’s request to hold general elections simultaneously inadmissible. The government was warned of “serious consequences” if it failed to release the necessary funds required for conducting polls in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. rejected
The three-judge bench, led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, heard the petition, and it was found that the matter had already been decided by a final judgement of the court. The report filed by the defence ministry explained the need to hold elections on the same day due to the security situation in the country.
The report noted that reallocating troops from KP and Balochistan could negatively affect security in Punjab and Sindh. Additionally, the court order emphasized the constitutional authority of the cabinet under Article 84 to approve the expenditure of Rs21bn for election expenses, and that the government must ensure the passage of all financial measures presented to the NA.
According to the order, the judges were not convinced that the National Assembly’s disapproval of the fund release prevented the cabinet from exercising its constitutional power under Article 84. The order stated that the Finance Division’s report, which suggested that the federal government did not have the constitutional authority to authorize the expenditure of Rs21bn for the general elections, was not acceptable.rejected
The order emphasized that the government of the day must command the confidence of the majority of the National Assembly at all times, and financial measures of constitutional importance must be passed by the National Assembly.
The order stated that if the National Assembly’s rejection of the demand to release poll funds were viewed from this perspective, it would have serious constitutional implications.rejected
Therefore, the court accepted this statement for present purposes. The order stated that the federal cabinet and the prime minister should take appropriate remedial measures to rectify the situation by April 27, 2023, and provide the election commission with Rs21bn in immediately available and realizable funds for the holding of general elections. The order rejected the election commission’s plea to restore the poll date to Oct 8 as non-maintainable, stating that it was impermissible to reopen issues that had already been decided.rejected
The Attorney General for Pakistan, Mansoor Usman Awan, began today’s hearing by reading aloud the finance ministry’s report in the courtroom. Chief Justice Bandial observed that the government had originally stated that the funds needed for the polls would be provided via a supplementary grant, but had instead referred the matter to parliament. rejected
Justice Akhtar pointed out that a majority of the members of the NA Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue were part of the government, and asked how the government could be prevented from approving a grant. He stressed that the Constitution mandated that the prime minister should have a majority in the NA for financial matters. rejected
Justice Akhtar then questioned how the NA could intervene when the Constitution gave the government the right to issue a supplementary grant. The AGP argued that approval for the supplementary grant could be sought later and that the NA had already expressed its opinion on the matter through a resolution rejected.
Justice Akhtar asked why the government could not have sought approval for the grant, to which the AGP replied that if post-facto approval was not granted, then the expenses would be classified as “unconstitutional.”rejected
Justice Akhtar emphasized the importance of the prime minister having a majority in the NA and urged AGP to take the matter seriously. CJP Bandial noted that administrative matters had not been referred to the standing committee before and that election expenses were necessary.
He advised the government to review its decision or refer the matter back to the NA. The chief justice also discussed the ECP’s stance on holding simultaneous elections in the country and cited security concerns. He questioned why elections had been held in the past despite ongoing terrorism, and the AGP pointed out that this time, elections were being held separately in two provinces.
Chief Justice of Pakistan
The Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) inquired about the possibility of improvements in the situation by October 8, adding that the government’s estimate of the situation is not sufficient. The Supreme Court (SC) then demanded a response from the government on the provision of funds for holding elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), highlighting that the failure to provide funds could have serious consequences. rejected
Justice Ahsan stated that elections were held in Britain during a time of war and questioned why the government had the right to delay polls.
The chief justice observed that the top court proceedings began on March 27 and wrapped up on April 4, 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. rejected
According to CJP Bandial, the defence secretary and the ISI chief were also present at the briefing. He stated that the matter was not raised during the hearing and that the officials were informed that it had already been decided.
The CJP found the defence ministry’s stance on holding elections simultaneously in the country to be “strange” and “not maintainable”.
The AGP informed the court that the foreign minister had called on the prime minister and that efforts were being made to initiate political dialogue. The CJP stated that there might be room for negotiations if all political parties were united in their stance. rejected
The chief justice expressed concern that matters could not be delayed further due to the nearness of Eidul Fitr holidays. The court issued a notice to political parties for the next day.
Advocate Shah Khawar said that the apex court’s orders were not implemented and implementation was necessary. He added that the entire country should have elections at the same time to avoid complications that would arise if elections were held separately.
Executive-judiciary impasse on polls
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had ordered the government to provide Rs21 billion to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the conduct of elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by April 10.
The court had also directed the ECP to provide a report on whether the government had complied with the order by April 11. Government referred the matter to Parliament, which refused to issue the funds. Last week, the ECP submitted a report to the Supreme Court, which informed the court about the government’s reluctance to provide the funds.
The court then directed the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to release the funds and seek approval from the finance ministry for their release. The federal cabinet’s approval was required for the release of the funds, but the government’s demand for a supplementary grant of Rs21bn to the ECP was rejected by the National Assembly.
The ECP subsequently submitted a report to the court stating that staggering the elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was not feasible, and the finance ministry said that it was difficult to sanction the release of the funds in the absence of parliamentary approval.