SC for timely G-B polls under impartial caretakers

Directs Centre to issue a presidential order to adapt Election Act 2017 in northern areas

Hasnaat Malik May 08, 2020
Directs Centre to issue a presidential order to adapt Election Act 2017 in northern areas. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD: The top court has declared that the upcoming general election in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region should be held “on time” under the supervision of an “impartial caretaker government setup” and ordered the federal government to issue a presidential order to adopt Election Act 2017 in the G-B.

“The court directs [the government] to take all other steps necessary and incidental to hold free, fair and transparent elections under impartial caretaker government in line with Article 56 (5) of the proposed G-B Governance Reforms Order 2019 with all provisos as incorporated in schedule to the apex court [dated] January 17, 2019.” said the order issued by a Supreme Court seven-member bench.

The 7-page order, authored by Justice Ijazul Ahsan, was issued on a government petition that sought permission to establish a caretaker setup in the region for holding the upcoming provincial elections.

Tenure of the incumbent G-B government is set to end on June 24 and the next general election in region would become due within 60 days.

At the hearing of the case on April 28, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Javed Khan had told the bench that the previous election in the region was held under G-B Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009, but the new order passed in 2018 was silent on the caretaker setup.

The government petition said: “It would be [in the] interest of justice that till the promulgation of proposed reforms in the G-B, the federal government may be allowed to make necessary amendments in the government of G-B Order 2018 for the caretaker government and conduct of elections for the G-B Assembly, facilitating the adaptation of the Election Act 2017, Rules/Regulations thereunder and to do all that is necessary to continue democratic electoral process in the area.”

Later, the bench on April 28 issued a notice to G-B’s advocate general over the federal government’s petition. The decision had elicited a strong reaction from New Delhi that last week lodged a protest with Pakistan over the SC order. Pakistan had, however, dismissed the Indian objections.

Issuing a written order on the government’s petition, the SC said it is in the interest of the people of G-B as well as continuity of government process that elections should be held on time under an impartial caretaker setup to ensure that the elections are free and fair and reflect aspirations of the people.

It said the court expected the caretaker government would comprise highly respected persons with proven track record of high integrity, impartiality, uprightness and competence.”

The court while justifying its order noted that the question of holding free and fair elections is a matter of public importance. There can be no cavil with the proposition that it involves enforcement of fundamental rights of the people of the G-B.

“We are therefore in no manner of doubt that this court has ample powers in terms of Article 184 (3) read with Article 187 to pass appropriate orders to avoid a constitutional crisis. Even the court reserves itself the power to pass appropriate orders in continuation of its January 17, 2019 judgment.

The order said none of stakeholders including the G-B g government has raised any objection to the prayers made by the federal government and have in fact fully supported it.

“Therefore, the court directs that the federal government may issue a presidential order to adopt the Election Act 2017 with all rules, regulations and byelaws in the territory of G-B. It also directed the AGP to place on the record the Presidential Order regarding implementation of the order in letter and spirit.

The order noted that absence of law, rules and regulations to conduct elections and to put in place a caretaker setup to ensure that such elections are held under a neutral and impartial government providing a level playing field to all parties and candidates participating in the elections would cause a constitutional vacuum which will create legal and constitutional complications.