News Analysis |
The Pakistan Supreme Court overruled a Lahore High Court (LHC) ruling regarding reform of the nomination papers last Sunday. Its decision came in the wake of an emergency meeting held by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and was appealed by former National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq.
Earlier on Friday a single bench of the LHC had nullified the reformed the nomination papers by ordering the ECP to include requirements mentioned in Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution. Among other declarations, the nomination papers, to be presented by candidates for the upcoming general elections, had to account for educational background, criminal record or possible dual nationality of candidates.
In its petition, the ECP asserted that a date has been prescribed for the general elections and any changes in the nomination papers at such a late stage could risk delaying the election process.
Counsel for former Speaker Ayaz Sadiq argued that only Parliament has the right to legislate on any matter, including the electoral process.
Read more : Uncertainty prevails over elections date
Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar emphasized the Supreme Court ruling in his remarks stating that the elections will be held on July 25 at all costs; “the ECP will be personally responsible if the elections are postponed.”
Statements on Part of LHC and ECP
The LHC bench headed by Justice Ayesha Malik objected to the current nomination forms because “basic information was missing.”
The emergency meeting, chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Muhammad Raza, summoned by the ECP was held on Saturday, to review the LHC’s verdict. Additional Secretary Akhtar Nazeer disclosed to reporters that the ECP had decided to instantly seek Supreme Court intervention over the LHC decision.
He went on to add that the elections will be conducted on schedule despite issuance of revised nomination dates for returning officers as per the Supreme Court’s verdict. The initial list of candidates will be issued on June 8.
Chaudry Umer Hayat, in representing the ECP at the LHC, stated that the legislative body responsible for the electoral reforms held no such reservations and that the “ECP can rectify disclosure requirements within one week if required.”
Petitions and Responses to LHC Verdict
Although the Supreme Court faced varying criticism from civil activists like Jibran Nasir and partisan leaders like Asad Umar of PTI, the resultant Supreme Court verdict was not purely a case of judicial activism.
This is evident from the view shared by the PPP Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who expressed his concern over the timing of the Lahore and Balochistan High Courts’ decisions.
“The PPP held a press conference emphasizing its principled opposition to delay in elections. The IHC, BHC and the LHC decisions and timings are a cause for concern particularly given nominations were to start tomorrow,” tweeted Bilawal.
Notably, the Supreme Court was petitioned by the ECP whose counsel affirmed the risk of delaying elections, pointing out that it was not in their interest to postpone elections.
Moreover National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, in statements made to the media, declared that all parties in the Parliament approved the Election Reform Act. As custodian of the Assembly, he saw it as his responsibility to file a petition against the High Court decision and declare it void.
Sadiq also posited his concerns over delaying elections over the issuance of new forms and stressed that the election dates hold more importance and should not be changed.
He further added that similar efforts were made earlier in 2002 against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz but with concerted effort did not succeed.
Pakistan, coming under financial and democratic scrutiny from supranational powers, has mobilized the Establishment into ensuring the elections go as planned.
In a struggling democracy like Pakistan, such a decision on behalf of a zealous Supreme Court may bespeak ill of the future of democracy, but it also demonstrates the will to preserve the most dominant democratic institution of Pakistan; general elections.
It is not an uncommon public opinion that the two permanent Pakistani state institutions; the Military and the Judiciary are in cahoots. Yet, with regional ties and nuclear balance shifting, the civil government needs to ensure that the transition of democratic power does not create environment for intervention within the country. Already the Pakistani Army is fighting a fresh insurgency at its western border while law enforcement continues to invigilate activist movements like the PTM. This could be reason enough to ensure execution remains on schedule, while it could also mean the rallying of pro-establishment forces within the legislative circle.
Read more: Will General Elections 2018 be held on time?
Meanwhile, the ECP has issued its revised schedule for the upcoming elections. Nomination papers, in approved format complying with the Election Act of 2017, will be received from June 4 to the June 8.
Scrutiny of said nominations will be conducted on the June 14, while petitions against resolutions by returning officials can be submitted till June 19, to be wrapped up by the June 26.
On June 27, the list of candidates will once again go on. Candidates will have one day to withdraw nomination papers. On June 29 a new list complete with election symbols will be issued.