By Justice Markandey Katju-
(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)
On May 2, it was announced that the talks between the ruling PDM and the opposition PTI for agreeing to a fresh date for holding the Punjab Assembly elections in Pakistan have broken down.
I submit that this crisis and imbroglio can be directly attributed to the Pakistan Supreme Court’s failure to do its duty of upholding the country’s Constitution.
On April 4, the Court had fixed May 14 for holding the Punjab Assembly elections. This itself was an unconstitutional order, since Article 224 (2) of the Pakistan Constitution states: “When the National Assembly or a Provincial Assembly is dissolved, a general election to the Assembly shall be held within a period of ninety days after the dissolution, and the results of the election shall be declared not later than fourteen days after the conclusion of the polls.”
This provision is absolutely clear, and there are no ifs and buts.
The Punjab Assembly had been dissolved on January 14. Therefore, the latest date for holding elections was April 14. How then could the Court extend the date to May 14?
Thereafter, when the PDM announced it will oppose elections on May 14, and refused to release funds for holding it, as ordered by the Court, the Court surrendered to this blackmail, and asked the parties to discuss with each other and try to agree on a fresh date.
This again was unconstitutional. There is no proviso to Article 224(2) which says that if the parties agree, the 90-day deadline can be extended. But the Court practically read such a proviso into Article 224(2).
It is a well-settled principle of interpretation that courts can neither add words into a provision nor delete anything from it. But the Pakistan Supreme Court has done precisely that.
An application was filed in court by the defence ministry requesting recall of the order of April 4 fixing May 14 for holding the elections, and on this application the court, on April 19, summoned the parties, but saying it will not backtrack from its order of April 4.
However, on April 20. the very next day, the Court asked the parties to discuss with each other and find out whether a consensus could be reached for a fresh date for holding the Punjab elections, at the same time reiterating that it will not backtrack from its earlier order if no consensus was reached.
Thereafter Eid intervened, and the case was adjourned to April 27, then to April 29, and again to May 2. The Court could not have been unaware that the date May 14, which it had fixed for holding the elections, was fast approaching, with no signs of any preparation. So it was in effect colluding in violating its own order of April 4, as well as in violating Article 224(2) of the Constitution, while indulging in the sophistry and doublespeak of repeatedly saying it will not backtrack from its order.
On May 2, it was announced that no consensus between the parties could be reached, and now there is a crisis.
I put the entire blame for this deadlock and impasse on Pakistan’s Supreme Court, and I have said so in no uncertain terms in this interview to Sohrab Barkat, a young Pakistani journalist
The PDM is no doubt to blame for defying the court order, but the greater blame rests squarely on the Supreme Court for buckling under pressure, surrendering to blackmail by the PDM, and developing cold feet when it came to doing its duty to enforce the Constitution.