Bound to comply with Constitution’s 90-day election demand: CJP

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It is not a matter of personal choice but the Constitution: Justice Bandial
LAHORE
Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial on Sunday said that the judges of the Supreme Court could not “blink” their eyes if the Constitution mandated polls within 90 days of an assembly’s dissolution, adding that it was their duty to say that.
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. Negotiations subsequently followed between the government and the PTI but remained inconclusive. The PTI and the government have since provided their reports about the negotiations to the Supreme Court, and an “appropriate” judgement is expected in the case.
Speaking at a conference on minority rights in Lahore on Sunday, the chief justice said: “When it comes to constitutional enforcement we must not blink our eyes. If it says 90 days for holding elections, it is our duty to say that and not our choice, instead of finding a reason why we should avoid saying that.”
The chief justice said the matter was being called a “controversy”. “I’m sorry, I’m not worthy of controversy, I’m a very humble person. Please don’t say that you support us. I’m just one of the members of the Supreme Court. You must support the Supreme Court if you stand up for the law and the Constitution and not [for] any individual,” he added.
The chief justice said the Supreme Court and its judges had no existence individually but “as a unit [and] as a constitutional organ and that is how we function”.
Justice Bandial’s remark of support was directed at the PTI, which has been holding protests in “solidarity with the chief justice.
“The important thing is when the Supreme Court speaks on merit then its judgement has moral authority. That becomes even more important when those judgements are not appealed or no review is filed then that means no one has any objection to the judgement.
“If a review is filed then it will be heard because no judgement is binding unless it becomes final. But if a judgement is not challenged then it becomes final so let’s see what happens now,” the chief justice said.
CJP Bandial said he was “optimistic” that the nation’s leaders, institutions and people were all “committed to the Constitution”.
Referring to the negotiations between the government and the PTI, he said the apex court was informed that they had not concluded yet.
“We have nothing to do with that but at least they are conscious that they have a duty to comply [with] the Constitution and we are there to support that effort otherwise our judgement is there, it has a force of its own, it may not be implemented today but it will last to the test of time and shall be implemented tomorrow,” the chief justice pointed out.
Concluding his speech, CJP Bandial said: “The implementation bench is always there so file an application and let’s see what happens.”
CJP Bandial’s speech also addressed minority rights. He said the Constitution assured freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institutions subject to public order and morality.
“Our Constitution in Article 21 safeguards against the taxation of any particular religion. So for no particular reason can other religions be taxed,” he said. “Article 22 safeguards educational institutions in respect of religion. No religious instruction or ceremony in any educational institution other than one’s own religion.”
The chief justice added that no citizen could be denied admission on the grounds of caste, race, religion, place, or birth to educational institutions which received aid from public revenues.
“Our Constitution says everyone is free to profess their religion, and all citizens have equal rights and yet for years our minorities have felt discriminated, marginalised and sidelined.
“In 2014, SC under CJP Tasaduq Jillani took up this challenge and came up with directions to protect the rights of minorities. Directions about curriculum, to ensure there is no hate speech against religions, establishing taskforce and special police force to protect places of worship, education quota in institutions were given.”
CJP Bandial highlighted how for many years these directions were carried out by former police officer Shoaib Suddle, a court appointee.
“Today the minorities see that judgment as an umbrella for their rights,” he said, shedding light on how incidents of violence against minorities over sectarianism had also diminished.
CJP Bandial made it clear that Islam did not appreciate sectarianism as he cited a few Quranic verses out of the several that talk about it.
“It is said to leave these differences to God, What you have to do is do good deeds, and for others who do bad deeds, just inform them to not do it. Just advise. You don’t have to be violent or aggressive.”
The chief justice highlighted how the Holy Quran stated that there was no compulsion in religion and it was a person’s own will and wish.
“In another chapter, it is said do not denigrate the deeds of other faiths. Let them do their religious deeds,” he said, adding that in another chapter, “it is said that due to the intervention of Allah for the protection of worship places of other faiths, the people who were fighting and confronting did not destroy the religious place because Allah intervened to protect them. This is the right of worshippers.”
On April 26, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif reiterated that simultaneous elections will take place in Octo¬ber or November after the current National Asse¬mbly 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.
In the reports submitted to the apex court after the negotiations, the PTI stated that no resolution was reached and requested that the court enforce its April 4 order regarding elections in Punjab while the government said that negotiations between both committees had 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.