Pakistan‘s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the election commission to hold elections in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces within the 90-day period as mandated by the Constitution. The Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies were dissolved on January 14 and 18, respectively by the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party as part of its bid to force early general elections in the country.
The court launched suo motu proceedings last week regarding the delay in the announcement of a date for elections in the two provinces. A five-member bench headed by chief justice Umar Ata Bandial issued the split decision, passed by a majority of three, with two judges expressing reservations over the admissibility of suo motu action by the top court.
The decision paved the way for elections in the two provinces, currently run by interim governments. The respective governors, empowered to set the election dates, have demurred, apparently due to political reasons. The court also ruled that President Arif Alvi’s orders to hold elections on April 9 will be binding on the Punjab assembly but not on the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly, as the latter was dissolved by the governor, while the former was not.
“If the governor dissolved the assembly, then the governor will announce the election date,” ruled the apex court. The top court ordered the governor of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to announce the date for provincial elections. It also ruled that the president and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should declare Punjab’s polls schedule after consultation.
The bench concluded the case on Tuesday after hearing all parties, including the lawyers of counsels of the ruling coalition, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the president, and others.The ruling by the court is a moral victory for the Imran Khan-led PTI which had demanded early elections. To put pressure on the coalition government in Islamabad, Khan, the former prime minister, whose party was in power in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, dissolved the two assemblies.
As the federal government miserably failed to improve the economic situation, it is feared that an early election would only benefit Khan, who was ousted as Prime Minister in April last year. The federal government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has been trying to delay the provincial elections and organise them with the general elections for the parliament, due after August.