Pakistan parliament rejects court order for snap provincial polls


Lawyer from opposition leader Imran Khan’s party says resolution passed by National Assembly carries ‘no backing of the law’.

Pakistan’s parliament has adopted a resolution rejecting a Supreme Court order to hold snap elections for two provincial legislatures in the country.

The top court had declared the electoral panel’s decision to delay the polls in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces unconstitutional on Tuesday. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party had dissolved the local governments in those provinces earlier this year.

The motion on Thursday was tabled by legislator Khalid Magsi during a session of Pakistan’s National Assembly in the capital, Islamabad.

The house speaker, in a live broadcast, said a majority of lawmakers had voted to reject the decision by the court’s three-member panel headed by the chief justice and to demand a full court panel consisting of all judges hear the case.

Power struggle amid economic crisis

The court’s order said that the elections in two provinces should go ahead, despite the government’s reluctance to hold the votes as it struggles with an economic crisis and a political challenge from the opposition.

It gave a date of May 14 for voting in Pakistan’s largest and most populous province, Punjab, but the date for voting in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was still pending, due to technical issues.

It also ordered the government to release funds worth 21 billion rupees ($73.36m) to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the voting and told it to update the court by April 11.

I will address our ppl & warn of the real danger that, despite SC order, ruling mafia will still not hold elections bec they are petrified of losing. We must be prepared to come out on the streets for peaceful protest in support & protection of SC, which is upholding Constitution

— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) April 5, 2023

‘Parliament has lodged an attack on Supreme Court’

A lawyer from Khan’s party said the resolution passed by the parliament carries “no backing of the law”.

“The Parliament has effectively lodged an unprecedented attack on the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” Faisal Fareed Chaudhry told Al Jazeera.

“If this parliament had been a representative of the people of Pakistan, it would have passed a resolution in regard to the economic and governance crises; tried to resolve them,” he said.

The government and judiciary have been at odds and Parliament introduced a draft law last week to clip the chief justice’s powers.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government has been saying the country’s poor economic condition did not allow spending on the snap polls and then on the general elections due later this year.

Sharif was present in the parliament during Thursday’s session but left once the resolution was passed.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its allies had dissolved the provincial governments, hoping that it would force Sharif’s government to hold snap polls across the country, the PTI’s longstanding demand since Khan was removed from office a year ago through a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

Pakistan historically holds the national and provincial elections together. However, the ECP is also bound by the constitution to hold elections within 90 days of the dissolution of a legislative assembly.

But when the ECP refused to announce dates for the polls, the Supreme Court in February took a “suo motu” notice of the delay and, in a split 3-2 verdict, ordered the poll panel to announce the schedule for elections in the two provinces. A suo motu notice is when a court itself takes up a matter without having formal prompting from another party with standing.

Soon after his removal in April last year, Khan and his party launched a nationwide campaign demanding immediate general elections, which the government repeatedly rejected.

“When I decided to dissolve my two assemblies [in the states governed by PTI], we got top lawyers in the country. We all looked at the constitution and each one of them said that the moment you dissolve assemblies, elections will have to be held within 90 days. It is unambiguous,” Khan told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview.

“So if the government does not accept the Supreme Court’s verdict, it means they are now violating the constitution. In that case, the Supreme Court could slap contempt [charges] on them,” he said.

“And let me assure everyone that all the people of Pakistan would be standing with the Supreme Court. I think it just won’t be the PTI.”

Al Jazeera’s Abid Hussain contributed reporting from Islamabad



Al Jazeera and news agencies

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