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Pakistan heading towards constitutional crisis

Islamabad [Pakistan], April 20 (ANI): Differences between the top judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) and the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government has exacerbated to seemingly a point of no return.

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Umar Ata Bandial headed SCP bench remains adamant about holding provincial elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa despite the government’s disapproval, reported The Express Tribune.

There are clear divisions among the SCP judges on the matter as some are against the apex court’s “suo moto” powers – alleged to be arbitrarily exercised by CJP Bandial – in this case and has reportedly asked for a larger bench to address the ongoing political turmoil in the country, reported Arab News.

On the other hand, the powerful military establishment is backing the Shehbaz Sharif-led government on the matter and has recently informed the CJP and other judges that the security environment in Pakistan is not conducive to holding elections in the two provinces.

Furthermore, the coalition government will likely use the parliament to pass the bill “to regulate the CJP’s arbitrary powers,” reported Gulf News.

As per media reports, Lieutenant General Nadeem Anjum, the Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), paid a “courtesy call” to CJP Bandial on April 17, accompanied by Maj General Wajid Aziz, the Director General of Military Intelligence (DGMI), and retired Lieutenant General Hamood-uz-Zaman Khan, the Secretary of Defense, reported Friday Times.

During this meeting, Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan and Justice Munib Akhtar were also present, both of whom were part of the SCP bench responsible for the early election decision in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

DG ISI conveyed the military establishment’s stance on the upcoming Punjab elections, scheduled for May 14.

Analysts speculate that the two to three-hour-long meeting was conducted to inform the superior judiciary that the current military establishment believes that polls in Punjab are not feasible under the present security environment, reported Pak Observer.

Additionally, the establishment believes that if the CJP is committed to holding elections, then both federal and provincial elections are to be held simultaneously.

It appears that the military establishment wants to potentially influence the decision-making process regarding the upcoming provincial elections.

DG ISI meeting came a few days after a formal visit by army chief General Syed Asim Munir to the National Assembly, where he addressed an “in-camera session” of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, reported Business Recorder.

In the past, the military establishment was cautious about getting openly involved in the country’s politics. However, since the controversial ousting of former Prime Minister Imran Khan from power last year, the Pakistan Army has supported the PDM government against the political opposition, including the recent decision by the SCP bench led by CJP Bandial to hold elections in Punjab.

These events suggest that the establishment is unwilling to accept Khan’s return to power in Islamabad and will employ all measures, even those that are unconstitutional, to delay the polls until October, reported Dawn.

Imran Khan has claimed that these delaying tactics will allow the ruling PDM and its military backers to weaken his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) by targeting its key political leaders and supporters.

Notably, Khan, himself is facing over 100 court cases on various allegations, including terrorism and high-level corruption.

For Khan and his supporters, early elections are the only viable solution, as he enjoys substantial public support and can defeat the ruling PDM.

Therefore, the SCP’s decision to hold early polls in Punjab has provided a glimmer of hope for Khan and his supporters. However, divisions within the SCP and the military establishment’s attempts to delay elections will complicate matters for Khan and may deepen political turmoil in Pakistan.

Moreover, the PDM is now adamant about passing the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Bill, 2023, in the joint session of the parliament to curtail the CJP’s powers to take “suo motu” notices and constituting benches of the SCP, reported Business Recorder.

In the first attempt, the government failed to pass the bill after President Arif Alvi had sent it back, saying that the proposed law travelled “beyond the competence of parliament” and an eight-judge SCP bench rendered the bill ineffective in a “pre-emptive strike”.

Due to the controversy over the bill, analysts are arguing that the SCP’s decision to suspend the bill goes “beyond its constitutional mandate and encroaches on the parliament’s domain.”

Reacting to the bill, Imran Khan said it was only approved to pressure the Supreme Court and said he doubted the government’s intention.

Interestingly, two SCP judges, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, had called for revisiting the power of the “one-man show” enjoyed by the chief justice, saying that Pakistan’s top court could not “be dependent on the solitary decision of one man,” reported Daily Times.

Expectedly, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif hailed the dissenting note as a “ray of hope” during his National Assembly speech and called for relevant legislation in its wake to curtail the freedom of the top judge, reported Pakistan Today.

The power struggle between the judiciary and the government is likely to continue, with each side asserting its supremacy. With the military establishment siding with the ruling PDM, it is likely that a divided SCP will be under immense pressure on the issue of the election. (ANI)

This report is auto-generated from ANI news service. ThePrint holds no responsibility for its content.

Source: The Print

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