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Tuesday April 23, 2024

No option but to hold polls on May 14, says Aitzaz

"The one not complying with the order will have to face disqualification,” he warned

By Numan Wahab
April 16, 2023
Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan. — AFP
Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan. — AFP

LAHORE: The roundtable conference of the legal fraternity Saturday expressed its full support to the Constitution and the Supreme Court of Pakistan and demanded that election to the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) assemblies should be held immediately, as per the dictates of the Constitution and orders of the apex court.

Senior lawyer and politician Barrister Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, in his address to the participants, said the Sipah Salar [army chief] and the prime minister have no other option but to hold elections in Punjab on May 14, as ordered by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. “And the one not complying with the order will have to face disqualification,” he warned. “I told the court reporters that there was no other way out except for the implementation of the top court orders. All are bound to implement that order. And all those who say they do not accept the apex court verdict, will have to accept it; otherwise, they will face disqualification due to contempt,” he explained.

“They [Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition government in Centre] believed that the Sipah Salar was with them, but they did not know that he had to obey the apex court verdict under the Constitution,” Aitzaz Ahsan added. The senior lawyer said the legal fraternity would never compromise on the respect and honour of the Supreme Court. He read out the declaration passed by the conference at the end of the event. The declaration concluded that “as lawyers, we are the officers of the courts in Pakistan. As such, we are the primary stakeholders in the functioning of the courts, according to the Constitution, and the law as an independent bulwark of the rights of the people of Pakistan, particularly the poor and the deprived.

“We, thus, need a strong court acting within the Constitution and according to the oath, taken by the judges at all times. Insofar as the courts continue to do so, we will always support them without reservation,” said the declaration. All participants in the conference believed that the election in Punjab and KPK was the real issues that “Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif desires to avoid, and, other matters such as the formation of benches, and roster fixation are obvious distractions to detract from the central issue”.

The participants stressed that “any permissible legislation to regulate the court or its processes ought not to be deployed, to destroy the court, its independence, its dignity and authority”. The declaration said that “the issues internal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan be decided by judges themselves through the comity of judges, mutual respect, due recognition of status, propriety and dignity behoving judges of the highest court of the land”.

The declaration read that “the constitutional controversies which have fractured the body politic and even caused schisms among the justices, mainly, on questions of bench formation; roster fixation; the role of judges as politicians wearing robes; or the court as an imperialist court, all these need to be addressed by the judges themselves in due deliberations in the first instance, and not by any institution other than the judiciary itself and not in indecent haste”.

The roundtable was held under the topic of “Sanctity of the Constitution and Judicial Independence in Pakistan”, hosted by Khawaja Tariq Raheem, veteran lawyer, and former governor of Punjab Sardar Latif Khosa, and Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan. The conference was attended by more than 50 top lawyers and jurists of the country, who vowed to uphold the sanctity of the Constitution.

Justice (retd) Karamat Nazir Bhandari, the former attorney general of Pakistan Anwar Mansoor, former president of Supreme Court Bar Association Hamid Khan, President of Supreme Court Bar Association Abid Zuberi, Vice President Lahore High Court Bar Association Rabia Bajwa, Chairman of Judicial Activism Panel Mohammad Azhar Siddique, famous constitutional lawyer Salman Akram Raja and many others addressed the conference. The declaration said that in this situation, the role of the legislature and some political parties has also been divisive, negative, bullish and opportunistic. It said that the divide in the judiciary appears to be more on account of personal linkages with parties and personal egos than on principle.

“The divide has created a situation of the nature that divided the judges into personal relationships and egos in 1997 with disastrous effects. The present situation appears worse,” the declaration read.

Talking about the polarization in superior judiciary, it said “the polarization of judges is now increased to the extent that today upon the mere composition of the bench, a citizen is able to predict at the outset, the ultimate outcome of any case.

“That is why, a controversy could be created whether seven or five judges sat on a bench that passed the Supreme Court’s Final Order dated March 1, 2023, which is yet to be obeyed and implemented.

“One faction believed it should have been seven judges; the other that it was indeed and in reality, only five judges, as only five judges heard the arguments of the parties and were competent to pass the Final Order by a majority of 3:2; a divided and weakened Supreme Court has been unable to bring to heed to such wanton acts of sheer contempt and disregard for the dignity of the apex court as to display huge billboards carrying portraits of sitting superior court judges and naming and shaming them in large public meetings.”

The caucus believed that elections to the Punjab and KPK assemblies remain real, and root cause of the present dispute and ugly imbroglio. It demanded that these elections must be held at the soonest because 90 days have expired on 14 April 2023 (in Punjab) and will expire on 18 April 2023 (in KPK). It said that a basic right has thus arisen in every Punjabi and KPK voter to cast his/her vote within the 90 days/ stipulated period. The caucus emphasised that all Pakistanis, irrespective of rank and status, are bound to do their duty towards that purpose. It said that the cabinet’s recourse to legislation appears to be mala fide, intended only to avoid an electoral contest and to devise a method to evade elections.

The lawyers demanded that the court should examine that and summon those purporting to provide means to delay or avoid the elections. It said: “If institutional respect is nevertheless to be given to the legislature, those who have decided outside legislative processes to prevent action in accordance with the court’s directions, including, among others, the prime minister, the law minister and the interior minister be summoned to determine responsibility and blame for violating the Constitution and contempt of the court by flouting its orders.”

The participants said that to avoid elections to Punjab and KPK assemblies, the government has come up with another novel pretext. It says that it is more convenient, always, to hold elections to all assemblies on the same day, even if one of the five assemblies has been dissolved three years before its term is over. The issues that arise are fraught with dangers to democracy and the federation and include that will the province with the dissolved assembly be kept bereft of a government by “chosen representatives” for three years? Or will the other four assemblies to dissolve together to hold elections to all five on the same day? It asked whether this not be taken as a revival of ‘One Unit’ against which the people, especially of the smaller provinces struggled from 1956 to 1969 until they were able to create a federal structure enshrined in the Constitution of 1973.

Former Advocate General Punjab Ahmed Awais said that being a member of the legal fraternity, they were standing by the Constitution. He said any government which was working under the Constitution would get the proper support of the legal fraternity. “We will shoot you [the government] down if you go against the Constitution,” said the former AGP. He said that the roundtable conference held that the Constitution of Pakistan is supreme and all were subservient to it.

“It is a reality and everyone should understand it. If anyone does not want to understand then they we will make him understand,” he added. Talking about recent legislations in the parliament, Ahmed Awais said that the judiciary has the most power among all other pillars of the state as it reviews and maintains the power. “The judiciary has power. If humiliation of the Supreme Court takes place in the parliament, then it is regrettable. The decision of the Supreme Court is binding on all and there is no compromise on it,” said the former law officer. Advocate Azhar Siddique said the chief justice and the judiciary were redline of the lawyer community.