FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 5

Apex court’s landmark judgment on elections

With last week’s landmark judgement of the Supreme Court, all doubts and misgivings about the Feb 8 elections have been removed. Through its verdict, the apex court quashed a Lahore High Court’s (LHC) order that had stayed the appointment of returning officers (ROs) and district returning officers (DROs) from the bureaucracy.

The order came after a three-member SC bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Justices Mansoor Ali Shah and Sardar Tariq Masood, heard an ECP petition challenging the LHC ruling. The development came a day after the ECP suspended a training session for ROs and DROs — an exercise which is basic to holding the polls on February 8.

The ECP’s move had come in response to an LHC order suspending the electoral watchdog’s notification regarding the appointment of ROs and DROs from the bureaucracy. The High Court order, which was issued on a petition submitted by the PTI, seemingly brought the electoral process to a halt. In its petition in the court, the PTI had contested the appointments of bureaucrats to act as DROs and ROs for the upcoming general elections and sought the appointment of officials from the lower judiciary for the poll exercise.

It may be added here that it all began on December 11 when the ECP announced the commencement of training for newly appointed ROs, mainly bureaucrats, who were chosen to play the crucial role of conducting fair and transparent elections. But later the Lahore High Court threw a spanner in the works, temporarily suspending the ECP’s decision and questioning the legality of appointing bureaucrats to these critical positions.

In recent weeks, there have been a spate of rumours and speculations in the media and political circles about a possible delay in elections, creating confusion and uncertainty in the country. It may be recalled here that in an earlier judgment, the Supreme Court had nullified the orders passed about the delimitations of two Balochistan Assembly constituencies and observed that no such challenge could be entertained after the ECP had issued the schedule for Feb 8 countrywide polling. The ruling was passed by a three-member bench headed by Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, which also comprised Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Athar Minallah, meaning that the country’s top court has closed all the doors to a delay in the much-awaited general elections.

The latest Supreme Court orders have been described as important interventions within days to stop the High Courts from interfering in the domain of the ECP and make it more powerful and immune from outside influence. The top court’s order has virtually closed all doors to election delay as courts across the country would not be able to entertain any petition challenging delimitation carried out by the Election Commission of Pakistan any more. Following the apex court’s order, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has not only issued the schedule for the next elections but Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja has also vowed to provide a level playing field for all political parties, including the PTI.

Political activities in the country have picked up steam following the Supreme Court’s order. Political parties have begun reaching out to like-minded forces for an electoral alliance and seat adjustment. During the last few weeks the politicians have engaged in extensive discussions to firm up their political strategies for the upcoming general elections 2024. In a major development, the PML-N and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) have agreed on a seat-to-seat adjustment formula after talks between Nawaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman. PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif also took FazlurRehman into confidence on an agreement with the MuttahidaQaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P).

After the PML-N, other political parties – including Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Awami National Party (ANP) and Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) – have contacted Maulana Fazlur Rehman. In a statement, the JUI-F spokesperson claimed that the PPP, ANP and QWP were negotiating formulas for seat adjustment in the upcoming general polls.

In the current scenario, the PTI is holding a unique position. Although a darling of the masses, it is out of favour with the powers that be. Various surveys have established beyond a shadow of doubt that the PTI is the most popular party in the country, but it is up against a formidable array of obstacles from the incumbent governing circles. The party chief is under detention and the party is being prevented from holding public rallies and meetings. Most of its prominent leaders are in hiding, while many have left to join the newly formed Istehkam–e-Pakistan Party. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has demanded the Election Commission of Pakistan to immediately allocate the ‘bat’ symbol, but a decision in the matter is pending.

The PTI core committee last week held a successful virtual public gathering which was attended by millions of Pakistanis from around the world. According to party spokesmen, the massive virtual gathering mirrored the results of the forthcoming general elections, if they are held in a free and fair manner.

Khaleej Mag, a magazine based in the UAE, lst week published results of a poll in which the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) came out on top from  among various political parties. A total of 42,179 took part in the survey posted on the magazine’s Twitter handle. More than 86% of Pakistanis supported the PTI, while the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam failed to get more than 15 per cent of the votes in the survey.