SC’s election verdict – 02 Mar 2023

The top court ruled that elections for the dissolved provincial assemblies should be held within 90 days

The Supreme Court has relived the constitutional spirit of parliamentary democracy in a landmark suo motu case related to delay in the holding of election to the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. In a 5-3 verdict, the top court ruled that elections for the dissolved provincial assemblies should be held within 90 days, and there can be no deviation from the stipulated dictum of the constitution. Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial’s decision to invoke his discretionary powers was dissented by two brother judges on the bench, who were of the considerate opinion that since similar litigations are pending in High Courts, a suo motu was not warranted. The ambiguity had surfaced as the Election Commission was at a failure to issue a schedule for ballot after the dissolution of two provincial assemblies, and the federation and two provinces were sceptical on whether to hold elections within 90 days or not. Nonetheless, all the five honourable jurists, prima facie, agreed with the provision of the Constitution that elections cannot be delayed.

Tuesday’s decision after a mammoth hearing spread over two days comprehensively addressed the lacunae of clarity by explicitly stating that the President was well within his rights to announce elections in Punjab, and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governor had undermined his constitutional duty by not announcing the date for poll in his province. These three observations of the apex court have not only cemented the norms of public representation, through the undeniable essence of resourcing to ballot, but also check-mated for all times to come any misadventures on the part of the executive — and organs under its domain — to stall holding of general elections on whims and wishes.

This suo motu, perhaps, was the first in history that saw the pendulum of justice swing at extremes. The dissolution of the initial nine-member full court on the pretexts of maintainability of the petition, and then the determination of the chief justice to go ahead with a five-member composition, and dissuade all kinds of political and institutional pressures while coming up with a qualified judicial review is historic in essence. Moreover, the top court’s largesse to enable the stakeholders — primarily all major political parties — to themselves resolve the riddle of going to polls has literally won hearts of democrats, and buried the cynicism that judiciary is driven with an agenda.

The subsequent order directing the Election Commission to proactively be available to the President, or the Governor(s), undertake necessary consultations, and go into ballot gear within the constitutional mandate timeframe, has intuitively set a great precedent. Now is the time to act as per the book, and implement the judgment in letter and spirit to buoy rule of law and supremacy of public mandate.

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