Punjab polls delay case: AGP, PPP seek time for dialogue with PTI

ISLAMABAD, Apr 20 : The Supreme Court on Thursday adjourned the hearing of Punjab delay case till April 27 after Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan and PPP lawyer Farooq H Naek met Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial in his chamber.

During the meeting, they sought time for holding dialogue with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to evolve consensus on simultaneous elections across the country.

Subsequently, the hearing of the case was adjourned till April 27.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar heard the case.

Earlier, Chief Justice Bandial requested political leaders to hold negotiations today after the Supreme Court resumed hearing a petition seeking to hold general elections for all the national and provincial assemblies simultaneously across the country.

The chief justice stated that there could be no obstinacy in negotiations and they could be successful through bilateral dialogues.

He requested that leaders of all political parties sit today and negotiate, rather than after Eid. He furthered that elections could be held after Eidul Azha in July.

A day earlier, the bench had issued notices to all majority political parties over a constitutional petition for holding elections of all provincial and national assemblies on the same date.

The petition, filed by Sardar Kashif Khan who is a permanent citizen of Abbottabad, has engaged Shah Khawar as his counsel.

The counsel for the petitioner said there is a need for political dialogue for ending the impasse on the issue of holding general elections for Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) assemblies.

Shortly after the hearing commenced today, the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan requested a 15-minute break so that the court could bring in more seating to facilitate “political leaders”.

When the hearing resumed, the petitioner’s counsel took to the rostrum and stated that the leadership of many political parties was present in the court. He added that it would be appropriate for the court to hear all the leaders.

The lawyer continued that holding elections on the same date was “necessary” for the strength of democracy.

Chief Justice Bandial expressed his gratitude to the political leaders for coming to the apex court.

“There is anxiety within the nation [regarding elections], and there will be peace if the political leadership solves the problem,” he remarked, adding that complications would arise if the court gave orders instead.

The CJP maintained that it would be “a blessing” if the political leaders resolved the issue through “understanding”.

He continued that the Ministry of Defense has also requested that the elections be held on the same day across the country, and the petitioner had requested that as well. The CJP said that the AGP had raised a similar point but it was lost amid politics.

Farooq Naik appeared before the top court on behalf of the PPP and stated that Khawaja Saad Rafiq, Qamar Zaman Kaira, and Tariq Bashir Cheema were also in attendance.

He highlighted that the ruling political alliance was of the common opinion that the time for elections in 90 days had passed, and the court had extended the date twice.

“Political parties have already started working together for elections. Bilawal Bhutto also met Maulana Fazlur Rahman in this regard,” he said, adding that the political dialogue within the government coalition would be completed immediately after Eid.

He furthered that talks would be held with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) again to end the tensions.

“Our effort will be to create a political consensus through these dialogues. Elections should be held on a single day as soon as possible,” he said.

Naek maintained that elections should be held by caretaker governments across the country and political issues should be settled between the parties. He added that “no institution should interfere in political matters”.

PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafique appeared on the rostrum and affirmed, after consultation with his party’s leadership, that elections should be held simultaneously across Pakistan.

He stated that the PML-N was “fully ready for negotiations on elections” and a meeting of party leaders was called after Eid.

“Instead of wasting the time of state institutions, politicians should talk among themselves,” he said.

Ayaz Sadiq appeared on the behalf of the Baloch National Party (BNP) and stated that were in touch with the PTI in a personal capacity and would continue to do so in the future.

Tariq Bashir Cheema stated that he was asked by Chaudhry Shujaat to be at the hearing. Cheema also said that elections should be held on the same date, adding that doing so would “end differences”.

He informed the court that it may be criticised if it decided in favour of simultaneous elections but if the politicians did it, it “would be better for everyone”. He added that the joint decision of the political leaders will be accepted by the nation.

BNP Awami leader Mohammad Asrarullah Tareen also agreed with same-day elections and urged political dialogue.

PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi came to the rostrum and stated that he had “hashed out” the party’s point of view.

“The constitution is clear about conducting elections within 90 days. I am subject to the Constitution, not to anyone’s wish,” he said.

He continued that the SC gave a decision regarding the elections but obstacles were erected in the execution of the court decision. He maintained that the court showed tolerance and restraint and protected the Constitution.

Qureshi stated that the PTI had come forward instead of being bitter and that political forces had to pull the country out of the quagmire.

“Elections are the constitutional and democratic way. People are the source of power, there should be elections,” he said.

He added that while the PTI never backed down from negotiations, the negotiations could not be above the Constitution.

Regarding the non-disbursement of funds for the election despite SC orders, Qureshi said that the Parliament’s resolution could not be above the Constitution.

“On behalf of Imran Khan, we will try to find a way out,” he said, adding that a solution would be found if “proper” suggestions were given.

Returning to the rostrum, Rafique said that the court shouldn’t be made into a “debate club” and if the political parties could meet they could conduct a dialogue.

“We are not convinced to stay even one day beyond the period stipulated in the Constitution,” he said.

Awami Muslim League (AML) leader Sheikh Rasheed came to the rostrum and stated that the nation saluted judicial decisions.

He maintained that the decision of the court would be the decision of the entire nation.

Rashid stated that he was not opposed to negotiations but the negotiations should be meaningful. He highlighted that a “respected personality had boycotted the hearing today”.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) chief Siraj-ul-Haq took to the rostrum and urged negotiation, adding that it was not an option but rather God’s command.

“The Constitution came into existence on the basis of consensus, and even today the Constitution can save the country. Protecting the Constitution is protecting the country,” he said.

Siraj maintained that politicians should “fix their own house”.

He continued that Pakistan was not created by any army general but was the result of a democratic struggle, adding that the country would not have sunk if there had been no dictatorship.

He maintained that the JI was not with the PDM, nor with the PTI and that he had met with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Imran Khan. He added that elections were the only solution to the nation’s problems and there was no other way.

“Elections cannot be held on the basis of one’s personal wish,” he said.

Siraj stated that his position was that the judiciary, the armed forces and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should stay away from politics.

He added the reason for the problems was that the judiciary, the establishment and the ECP were no longer apolitical.

He maintained that it would be appropriate to hold an election on a suitable date after Eidul Adha and the court should leave this matter to the politicians.

Imran Khan’s lawyer Salman Akram Raja appeared in court and stated that there was a risk of an operation against the PTI chief at Zaman Park during the Eid holidays.

The chief justice, however, stated that the concerned court was approached by the PTI and the high court would soon announce its order.

The chief justice remarked that there was a suggestion that the court should terminate the proceedings, and added that all political leaders had today reiterated their adherence to the Constitution.

“If we don’t follow the Constitution, there will be many twists and turns,” he said.

He continued that Article 254 of the Constitution had never been interpreted and under it, the date should not be extended, therefore it was not interpreted.

“The Election Commission made a wrong decision on which the court issued an order. The election date in Punjab is May 14,” he maintained.

Bandial stated that the court was bound by the Constitution and the law.

He highlighted that Siraj-ul-Haq, the PML-N and the PPP had attempted negotiations and later the PTI also talked about elections being held simultaneously.

“It should be remembered that there is a judicial decision in place. I am sure that no member of the assembly wants to go against the court decision,” he said, adding that during today’s hearing, no political leader gave a wrong decision.

The CJP said that there could be no obstinacy in negotiations and that negotiations could be successful through bilateral talks.

He requested that the leaders of political parties sit today and negotiate, rather than after Eid. He furthered that after Eid in July, elections could be held.

The hearing was then adjourned till 4 pm.

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