In a significant development, the prolonged political impasse that gripped Pakistan for nearly two years may finally be coming to an end as Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and President Dr Arif Alvi, acting on the instructions of Supreme Court of Pakistan, unanimously agreed on Thursday to hold general elections in the country on February 8, 2024.
“On today’s order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan, Mr Sikandar Sultan Raja, along with the Attorney General for Pakistan, Mr Mansoor Usman Awan, and four members of the Election Commission of Pakistan, came to meet President Dr Arif Alvi, at Aiwan-e-Sadr, to discuss the date for holding the forthcoming General Elections in the country,” read a statement issued by the Presidency.
It said the president heard about the progress the ECP has made in delimitation and for elections, adding that after a detailed discussion, the meeting unanimously agreed to hold general elections in the country on February 8, 2024.
On today’s order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan, Mr. Sikandar Sultan Raja, along with the Attorney General for Pakistan, Mr. Mansoor Usman Awan, and four members of the Election Commission of Pakistan, came to meet pic.twitter.com/1uXi7v7Y7N
— The President of Pakistan (@PresOfPakistan) November 2, 2023
During the meeting, CEC Raja had officially put forward February 11, 2024, as the proposed date for the upcoming general elections to the presidency.
The political standoff had its origins in the aftermath of the no-confidence motion that removed former prime minister Imran Khan from office back in April 2022.
This impasse reached its culmination with the dissolution of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Punjab provincial assemblies in January of the current year. This dissolution prompted calls for the holding of provincial elections in compliance with the constitutional requirement within 90-days.
The matter was subsequently taken up by the then chief justice of the Supreme Court, Umar Ata Bandial, who alongside other two member of the bench announced May 14, 2023, as the election date for Punjab. However, the former Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), relying on intelligence reports and citing financial implications, proposed to defer the elections in the province.
Notably, the previous PDM government had introduced amendments empowering the ECP to independently determine the election date, bypassing the involvement of the president.
With the elevation of Justice Qazi Faez Isa to the helm of the Supreme Court, the apex court revisited the pressing matter that had cast a shadow over the nation’s political landscape. The main contention revolved around the election delay, with the former ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), primarily alleging that relevant stakeholders were attempting to exclude them from the electoral race.
Today, the Supreme Court resumed hearings on pleas presented by the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and Ibadur Rehman Lodhi, all advocating for elections to be conducted within the constitutionally mandated 90-day period following the dissolution of the national and provincial assemblies.
Subsequently, the court directed the ECP officials to confer with the president regarding the proposed election date of February 11.
The announcement of the finalised date for general elections will be made from the apex court, remarked Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa.
The ECP delegation, led by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, met with the president, and they reached a unanimous agreement on setting February 8, 2024, as the date for the polls. The presidential office subsequently confirmed this decision, and the ECP officially validated the announcement through a press release.
“Today, under the supervision of Chief Election Commissioner Mr. Sikandar Sultan Raja, the honourable members of the Election Commission called on the President of Pakistan regarding the date of the election at Presidency. It was unanimously decided that the elections will be held on Thursday, February 8,” it stated.
Attorney General for Pakistan, Mansoor Awan also held meetings with the president and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) officials as instructed by the apex court.
The development comes after a three-member bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of Pakistan, Qazi Faez Isa, and including Justice Aminuddin Khan and Justice Athar Minallah, directed the attorney general to facilitate a meeting between the Chief Election Commissioner and the President.
The bench also mandated the relevant authorities to submit the final election date to the court on Friday when the hearing resumes.
During the meeting, ECP officials, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s guidance, proposed February 11 as the recommended date for conducting the general elections.
The meeting came hours after the Supreme Court gave the electoral watchdog until tomorrow to inform it of the date after consulting with the president regarding the matter.
The delegation comprised Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja, and all provincial chiefs, as well as DG law.
Separately, the electoral watchdog also held an emergency meeting in which it discussed the change in circumstances following the apex court’s instructions.
According to sources, the ECP huddle discussed the upcoming meeting with the president and the date for polls in the country. The lawyer representing the electoral body in the apex court was also consulted on the stance the ECP will take in court.
Participants of the meeting included the CEC, secretary ECP, the legal team and others.
Ahad Cheema acquitted in NAB reference
An accountability court on Friday acquitted Ahad Cheema, the special assistant to the caretaker prime minister, in assets beyond means reference filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
Accountability Judge Ali Zulqarnain had reserved the ruling on the acquittal plea after hearing arguments of the NAB prosecutor and the defence counsel earlier in the day. Cheema also appeared before the court during the proceedings.
On Nov 27, in a supplementary report, NAB informed the court that Cheema’s assets were consistent with his known income, asserting that properties held by alleged benamidars/relatives were not his. Based on evidence, the case under NAO, 1999, was not substantiated, it added.
Cheema had served as the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) director general during the PML-N government in Punjab. The bureau had arrested Cheema in 2018 when he appeared before a joint investigation team in connection with the Ashiana-e-Iqbal Housing Scheme case.
Later, NAB initiated assets beyond means and other inquiries against him. However, Cheema obtained bail in three cases, including assets beyond means case in 2021.
Bilawal consults legal minds on ZAB reference
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Friday consulted legal minds of his party on the presidential reference case of his late grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
The development came during a meeting of central and provincial officials as well as legal experts of the Peoples Lawyers Forum (PLF) at Zardari House here. Bilawal chaired the meeting.
During the meeting, the PLF officials briefed Bilawal on the presidential reference case of ZAB. Farooq H Naik and Shahadat Awan participated in the meeting through video link while Qazi Bashir, Bahram Khan Tareen, Raheel Kamran Cheema, Sajid Tanoli, Gohar Rehman Khattak, Ghiyasul Haque and Asrar Abbasi were present.
Syed Nayyar Hussain Bokhari, Faisal Karim Kundi, Raza Rabbani and Amna Paracha were also present in the meeting.
Meanwhile, a civil society delegation also met with Bilawal and discussed the challenges faced by the masses and their solutions.
Bilawal appreciated the delegation for their services and performance in their respective fields.
Ahmed Faraz Khan Advocate, Barrister Saifullah Ghori, Bilal Tariq Khan, Dr Abdul Mohiman, Dr Maria Hamid, Dr Salma Malik, Faheem Sardar, Hafiz Muhammad Tahir, Huma Fawad, Jahanzeb Durrani and Kanwal Malik were among those who met the PPP chairman.
Lubna Bhayat, SM Tariq, Javed Akhtar, Pir Mohammad Anwar, Junaid, Raja Mohammad Khan, Sania Kamran, Shehbaz Zaheer, Shamamata Al Ambararbab, Buland Sohail, Kashaf Ahmed, Talha Rahmani, Osama Malik, Usman Iqbal Bandal and Yusuf Masih were part of the delegation. PPP Information Secretary Faisal Karim Kundi was also present on this occasion.
SC to take up appeals against military trial verdict on Dec 13
The Supreme Court is set to take up high-profile cases in the coming week, including the appeals against its verdict in the trial of civilians in military courts and pleas filed by Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi.
A Supreme Court larger bench will hear on Dec 13 the intra-court appeals against its judgment in the case of civilians being tried in military courts. The appeals have been filed by the caretaker governments and the defence ministry.
On Oct 23, a five-judge bench of the SC unanimously declared the trial of civilians in military courts as null and void and ordered that the 103 accused in cases relating to the violence on May 9 and 10 be tried under ordinary criminal laws.
Moreover, Justice Naqvi, who is facing complaints of misconduct, recently wrote a letter to the top court’s three senior-most judges’ panel to point out the silence over his petitions challenging the issuance of a show-cause notice to him by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) despite the lapse of time as stipulated in the SC (Practice & Procedure) Act, 2023.
A three-judge bench, comprising Justice Aminuddin Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail and Justice Musarrat Hilali, will hear his petitions on December 15.
A nine-member larger bench of the apex court led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa will take up a presidential reference for revisiting the judgment wherein the death sentence of PPP founder and former premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was endorsed.
The bench will conduct its proceedings in courtroom No. 1 on December 12. These decisions were made by the SC three-member committee comprising CJP Isa, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and Justice Ijazul Ahsan.
The other high-profile cases that will be tackled by the SC in the coming week include the evacuation of illegal Afghan residents, reclassification of commercial land in Karachi, and reinstatement of the FIR against PTI leader Moonis Elahi.
The top court has scheduled the hearing for petitions challenging the evacuation of foreign nationals, especially Afghan citizens, residing unlawfully in the country.
A three-judge bench, comprising Justice Masood, Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Ayesha Malik, will hear these pleas on December 12.
Farhatullah Babar, Mushtaq Ahmed, Amina Masood Janjua, Mohsin Dawar, Jibran Nasir, Syed Muaz Shah, Pastor Ghazala Parveen, Imaan Zainab Mazari, Ahmad Shabbar, Advocate Imran Shafiq, Luke Victor, Sijal Shafiq, and Rohail Kasi are contesting the evacuation orders.
In a separate case, the dismissal of a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) case against PTI’s Moonis by a special judge in Lahore and then the upholding of that decision by the Lahore High Court, has been challenged in the SC.
The FIA has filed an appeal against the dismissal, leading to a review in the apex court.
Moreover, the SC, previously deliberating on the powers of the caretaker government, directed the attorney general for Pakistan (AGP) to assist the court in forming a larger bench to interpret its authority.
In addition, review petitions challenging the decision on the reclassification of land in Karachi to commercial status will be heard in the coming week as well. A three-judge bench, led by Justice Ahsan, is scheduled to hear the matter on December 11.
The court has issued notices to all relevant parties, including the Sindh government, following its earlier ruling invalidating the conversion of public land into residential and commercial categories.
These petitions stem from a challenge initiated in 2010 by former Karachi nazim Niamatullah Khan against the alteration of public land’s categorisation.
A five-judge bench, led by CJP Isa, will also take up on December 14 former Islamabad High Court judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui’s petition against his removal.
It is expected that the proceedings of both Bhutto and the ex-IHC judge’s cases will be available on the SC website.
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