ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court bench hearing the local government elections case on Thursday said the government had “killed democracy” by dissolving local bodies (LBs) in Punjab before the expiry of their term.
“You killed democracy and this is unconstitutional and worse than dictatorship,” observed Justice Qazi Faez Isa who was heading the two-judge Supreme Court bench also consisting of Justice Maqbool Baqar who bemoaned by asking how the mandate could be snatched from people.
“Will you throw away the entire local government system if you do not get favourable results tomorrow and an opposition party sweeps the elections,” wondered Justice Isa, adding that this came under the purview of Article 6 of the Constitution, which dealt with treason. “Instead of derailing the entire system why don’t you want to keep the system running,” the court asked the government.
Pointing to Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan, Justice Isa raised the question whether the media was free in the country and then asked the journalists present in the courtroom No. 4 to raise their hands if they believed the media was free. Almost no journalist raised their hands to show that the media is not free.
ECP submits schedule for LG elections in Punjab, KP, cantonment board areas
Why the media was being stifled, Justice Isa wondered and said the situation concerning the media was better during the last dictatorship. “Whosoever sways from the constitution commits criminal offence and should go to jail since media freedom has been ensured in the constitution,” he observed.
“When you destroy the free press, you destroy the country,” Justice Isa observed and said Pakistan was not fiefdom of anyone. “We (judiciary) would die protecting the constitution,” he pledged.
Whoever tried to speak truth was labelled fifth columnist or traitor, Justice Baqar regretted and highlighted the plight of journalists wanting to speak only the truth.
“No matter whoever chooses to be silent, we will keep on speaking as long as we can,” Justice Baqar said.
Additional Advocate General for Punjab Qasim Ali Nawaz Chohan tried to explain the reasons behind the abrupt dissolution of the local bodies but Justice Baqar said that he was trying to portray as if the ruling party had dissolved the entire local government system since it wanted to impose their own manifesto. “This is a devilish act.”
“You are sowing the seeds of what you did in East Pakistan when you disenfranchise the people only to gain temporary powers,” Justice Isa said and wondered why the PTV did not air the news about the dissolution of local bodies in Punjab.
Justice Isa regretted that the television was not free and the genuine hardworking journalists were being thrown away and losing jobs for speaking truth.
“Everyone in the opposition who opposes government policies is [termed] traitor,” Justice Isa said. “We created the country by adhering to democratic principles and not by waging a war.”
Pointing to the AGP, Justice Baqar said he belonged to an affluent family, but he should go to the people to witness how much they were suffering and cursing. “Usually the judges don’t say such words but we are not living in normal times. Your (government is at) war is with its own people,” Justice Baqar said.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in its reply stated that it had decided to hold local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in two stages from April 8 to May 29, in Punjab in three stages on June 20, 17 and Aug 8 and in the cantonment board areas on April 8 and May 29.
The ECP stated it was being reported that the official publication of the census results was now being placed for consideration by the Council of Common Interests (CCI) despite early pursuit of the matter by the commission.
The AGP said once the census results were approved by CCI, delimitation of constituencies of the local bodies would follow.
The ECP also stated delimitation of the constituencies in KP and Punjab has been completed but the advocate general of KP said that the exercise carried out by the commission was not legal.
The Supreme Court also noted that the AGP had conceded that holding of local government elections was a constitutional requirement and that he was opposed to any arbitrary dissolution of local bodies.
The AGP contended that he was against the dissolution of the elected governments through Article 58 (2) of the Constitution.
When the AAG of Punjab was asked whether the arbitrary termination of the local government system was right, he replied that a similar issue was pending before the Supreme Court.
The court will take up the matter again on March 1, after the CCI comes to a conclusion about the census.
Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2021