He passed these remarks as the top court resumed hearing the elections schedule case following three-day negotiations between the federal coalition and the opposition to agree on a specific date for nationwide polls.
After the negotiations came to an end on Tuesday, the PTI submitted a report to the court stating that no resolution was reached and requested that the court enforce its April 4 order regarding elections in Punjab.
In the last hearing on April 27, the three-member Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar made it clear to the negotiating parties that its April 4 order on Punjab Assembly elections had remained unchanged.
During the proceedings today, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan, PPP lawyer Farooq H. Naek, PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi, PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafique and others were present.
At the outset of the hearing, the PPP counsel read out loud the coalition government’s report on talks with the opposition — which was submitted earlier today — in court. In its reply, the government stated that a “major breakthrough” was achieved during the dialogue.
The CJP noted that the response had been signed by the finance minister, emphasising the importance of political leadership in resolving political issues. Additionally, he pressed on the significance of ongoing discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“The matter in court is constitutional, not political,” the top judge remarked, stressing that the SC had left political matters to political parties.
He then asked why the approval of the IMF agreement and trade policy were important, to which Naek replied: “Getting the IMF loan is key for the budget.”
The PPP lawyer explained that without the assemblies it would be impossible to approve the budget. “This crisis wouldn’t have arrived if the assemblies of Punjab and KP were not dissolved.
“Because of this crisis, a lot of the court’s time is also being wasted,” he said, adding that the issue at hand would be resolved if an understanding was reached between the government and the opposition.
“Will the IMF loan be used for reserves or the repayment of debts?” Justice Bandial asked here, to which Naek responded that the answer to this question could only be given by the finance minister.
The CJP also inquired if the budget was formulated under the guidelines of the IMF package, referring to news reports that stated the tranche would only be sanctioned if friendly countries provide a loan to Pakistan.
He stressed that the Constitution mandated holding polls within 90 days of the dissolution of assemblies, emphasising that the court had already issued a verdict regarding holding polls within 90 days.
CJP Bandial further observed that the court would not sit idle on its verdict for the May 14 polls if negotiations between the political parties failed.
He also highlighted that the Constitution binds the court to implement its verdict. “The court’s responsibility is to uphold the law.”
Referring to unattributed statements alleging that courts did not respect the Constitution in the past, the CJP said that the court refrained from commenting on such statements as a “mark of respect”.
He maintained that decisions made in anger are often not the correct ones, adding: “Therefore, we do not get angry.”
The chief justice then asked PPP’s Naek to draw comparisons between discussions held in court and those that occur in the Parliament, noting the importance of the discussion. “See the level of discussion being held here,” he remarked.
Naek contended that the court must review the issue of holding polls within 90 days and insisted on the significance of caretaker governments in ensuring free and fair elections.
He further emphasised that no one would accept elections until the elected government was in place. At that, the CJP referred to the Feb 23 matter when the court had taken a suo motu notice. He stated that the government had not taken constitutional proceedings seriously.
“You remained preoccupied with the debate surrounding the four-three [verdict],” the CJP told the PPP counsel.
The top judge said Justice Athar Minallah had raised the point of the dissolution of assemblies, however, the government showed no interest. “Even in a discussion today, no one is talking about the law or the Constitution.”
He noted that the seriousness of the government was such that it had not filed a review appeal — on the SC’s verdict. “The government doesn’t want to talk about law but wants to do politics.”
Justice Bandial stated that the court won’t respond to politics, saying that he had taken the oath to protect the Constitution.
“Along with economic, political, societal and security, there is also a constitutional crisis [in the country],” he said. “Eight people embraced martyrdom yesterday.
“The government and the opposition will have to become serious,” he observed. “Leave the matter on the political parties … should the court not ensure implementation of the law? Should we turn a blind eye to the public’s interest?
“The government is bound to follow the court’s orders,” Justice Bandial maintained. “The court is showing restraint but this should not be considered as our weakness.”
CJP also said that the court won’t shy away from sacrifices for ensuring the implementation of the law. “The nation’s jawan has given sacrifices and we are ready to do the same.”
At that, Barrister Ali Zafar stated that the PTI had agreed on holding elections across the country on the same day, but the only condition was that assemblies should be dissolved by May 14. “Our second condition is that polls should be held by the second week of July.”
The third condition, the lawyer went on, was that the delay in elections should be legalised through a constitutional amendment. Barrister Zafar also highlighted that May 14 was only a few days away but polls funds had not been released yet.
“Due to the doctrine of necessity, the election cannot be delayed any further,” he added.
Subsequently, PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafique came to the rostrum.
The railway minister said he was not a lawyer and was not aware of the etiquette of speaking in court. “But I will speak the truth, nothing but the truth.”
Rafique said there was deep mistrust between institutions and political parties.
The PML-N leader expressed his dissatisfaction with the judiciary, claiming that it had been “unfair to us since 2017”. However, he clarified that his party did not seek conflict among institutions, especially when the basic needs of the people remain unmet.
Rafique also emphasised the importance of transparency in the 90-day demand, as mandated by the Constitution. He warned that in the past, the country had faced disintegration due to the failure to accept election results, pointing out the need for fair and democratic processes.
Talks led to ‘major breakthrough’, govt tells SC
In the latest development, the federal government also submitted a report to the top court today about the outcome of the talks three days after the PTI furnished its report to the apex court, seeking the implementation of the SC’s order on holding elections in Punjab on May 14 “in letter and spirit”.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar submitted the report through the attorney general.
In the reply filed by the government, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, it quoted the PTI’s committee acknowledging “the gravity of economic challenges being faced by Pakistan and agreed to negotiate on holding general elections to the National and all provincial assemblies on the same date”.
“The coalition partners also showed flexibility to reach a political settlement and considered dissolving the National and two provincial assemblies before the end of their constitutionally mandated terms,” the reply said.
It added that negotiations between both committees consequently led to a “major breakthrough” to end the political impasse, resulting in an understanding on some points including consensus that the general elections should be held on the same date.
The reply also added that the committees further agreed that the caretaker governments should be in place at both the federal and provincial levels for holding general elections “justly, fairly and in accordance with law and to provide level playing field to the leadership of all political parties to actively participate in the electoral process”.
“There is, however, no agreement on date of dissolution of the National and Provincial Assemblies of Sindh and Balochistan, and both committees had agreed on May 2 to resume negotiations after getting clearance from their respective leadership,” according to the minister.
The reply concluded that: “As is evident from the foregoing, significant progress has been made since the dialogue process began. The coalition partners believe that political issues can best be resolved through dialogue and are ready to resume the same in the larger national interest.”
Last month, the Supreme Court — while hearing a PTI petition — had directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold general elections to the Punjab Assembly on May 14. However, the government had rejected the apex court’s orders.
After repeated back and forth last week, the Supreme Court on April 20 afforded a temporary respite to the country’s main political parties, giving them time till April 26 to develop a consensus on the date for elections to the provincial and national assemblies, so they could be held simultaneously across the country.
However, on April 26, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif reiterated that simultaneous elections will take place in October or November after the current National Assembly completed its term on August 13, whereas parliament will have the final say regarding the initiation of talks with the opposition.
The government wanted to talk to the PTI, he had said, adding that there was an overwhelming opinion that the doors of dialogue should not be closed, but its format was yet to be decided. “The decision [regarding talks] has to be taken by parliament, not you or me,” he added.
Subsequently, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani had formed a committee with four members each from both the ruling coalition and the opposition for dialogue.
Dar, former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, PML-N’s Khawaja Saad Rafique, Azam Nazeer Tarar and Sardar Ayaz Sadiq along with PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar represented the government in the negotiations. Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Kishwar Zehra and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid’s Tariq Bashir Cheema were also included in the government’s negotiating team.
Meanwhile, the opposition delegation consisted of the party’s Vice Chairman Qureshi, Senior Vice President Fawad Chaudhry, and Senator Ali Zafar.