South Asia

Pakistan SC Says Poll Panel's Decision to Delay Assembly Elections Is Unconstitutional

The country's top court ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold elections in Punjab on May 14.

New Delhi: The Pakistan Supreme Court on Tuesday, April 4, held that the country’s poll panel’s decision to delay assembly elections to two states was “unconstitutional”, ordering the Election Commission to hold elections in Punjab on May 14.

The decision comes after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party led by former prime minister Imran Khan, filed a petition challenging the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s decision to delay the Punjab polls from April 30 to October 8. The poll panel said the decision was taken after the federal government, citing the country’s economic crisis, refused to release funds to hold elections.

According to Pakistani newspaper Dawn, the top court’s order said, “The impugned order dated 22.03.2023 made by the Election Commission of Pakistan is declared to be unconstitutional, without lawful authority or jurisdiction, void ab-initio, of no legal effect and is hereby quashed.”

The court held that neither the Pakistan constitution nor the law empowers the ECP to extend the date of elections beyond the 90 days period.

The PTI, which was in power in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, decided to dissolve the provincial assemblies in January this year, according to Al Jazeera. The move was another attempt by the party to force early national elections, which Khan has been demanding since he lost a trust vote in April 2022.

The ECP had initially refused to announce the poll schedule after the assemblies were dissolved. The Supreme Court in February took suo motu notice of the issue and in a 3-2 verdict ordered the ECP to do so.

Last month, the ECP declared that the Punjab elections would be held on April 30. But on March 22, it ‘postponed’ the election to October 8. This is when the PTI moved the top court.

According to Al Jazeera, the top court said that on holding the polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a petition should be filed at an appropriate forum.

The court also ordered the government to release Pakistani Rs 21 billion by April 10 for the elections, according to Dawn.

The federal government is duty bound to provide aid and assistance to the ECP in holding elections in the two provinces, the court noted.

“Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the federal government must make available all necessary personnel, whether from the Armed Forces, Rangers, Frontier Constabulary and all other forces under the direct, indirect or ultimate command and control of the said Government, as are required by the Commission for security and other purposes related to the general elections,” the order said, according to Dawn.