Punjab Governor Muhammad Balighur Rehman on Thursday informed the Lahore High Court (LHC) that he was not obligated in any manner to announce the date for the elections in the province, as he had not dissolved the assembly while acting on the advice of the chief minister.
It was stated in a reply, filed on behalf of the governor before Justice Jawad Hassan, who was hearing a petition filed by a citizen Munir Ahmand, seeking directions for the announcement of a date for holding the elections in the province.
The court also heard the civil miscellaneous application of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) filed in an identical pending petition.
In his reply, the governor submitted that as per Article 105 of the Constitution, he was responsible for announcing the date of elections in the province if he dissolved the assembly, but not otherwise, where assembly stands dissolved on the force of self-executory provision of Article 112.
The governor also said that he did not cause any obstruction in the performance of the commission and requested the court to dismiss the petition with fine as the petitioner was not an aggrieved person.
Also read: ECP asked to hold Punjab, NA polls on same day
Meanwhile, the LHC directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to submit a comprehensive reply to a plea filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) seeking elections within 90 days of the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly by February 10 (tomorrow).
Justice Jawad Hassan turned down the ECP and Punjab governor's requests to take this matter till Monday, seeking a prompt response from the electoral watchdog.
As the proceedings commenced, advocate Shehzad Mazhar representing the ECP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmaker Rana Mashhood requested the court to take this matter till Monday.
The ECP’s lawyer argued that he had been engaged recently and had not prepared his case. PML-N’s Rana Mashhood argued that the governor’s lawyer was busy in the Supreme Court, further requesting the court to take this matter by Monday.
PTI’s lawyer barrister Ali Zafar argued that the Constitution is clear about conducting elections within 90 days after the dissolution of an assembly. He implored the court that the ECP had written to the governor, proposing a time frame for holding elections, but the governor had not announced the election date. "Both the ECP and governor Punjab are putting this responsibility on each other," he added.
Advocate Mazhar argued that the ECP is obligated to hold elections, not announce the date for the election. He reiterated his request for the court to grant him time till Monday to prepare his case.
"You are an intelligent person. Why do you need such a long time?" Justice Hassan questioned. However, the ECP's lawyer said that he is still learning from the court.
"When the ECP is ready to hold elections, then why is the date not being announced?" the judge asked. In response, the ECP’s lawyer argued that they proposed the time frame to the Punjab governor but could not announce the date.
Meanwhile, Additional Attorney General Nasar Ahmad argued that the government does not have enough money to hold elections. Barrister Zafar expressed his shock at such a "strange" statement, requesting the court to record it. At this, Nasar retracted his statement.
Barrister Zafar argued that after the Punjab assembly was dissolved, a caretaker government was formed. However, the Constitution says that the governor must announce the date for elections before forming a caretaker government.
"When the matter of announcing the election date is discussed with the governor, he says he did not dissolve the assembly so he cannot announce the date. When the matter of the formation of a caretaker government came before him, he pleasantly rendered his role which means the governor is rendering a dual role," he said.
Advocate Azhar Siddique implored the court that Article 105-A of the Constitution says that the governor will announce the date for elections before forming a caretaker government if he dissolves the government. However, in this case, the governor did not act upon section “A” of this Article that binds him to announce the date of the elections.
Justice Jawad remarked that advocate Siddique raised an important question.
Barrister Ali Zafar also shed light on the reply submitted on behalf of the governor saying, "The governor says giving a date for elections is purely the obligation of the ECP as he did not dissolve the assembly".
He argued to the court that the ECP is agreeing to elections within 90 days while the governor is also willing to hold elections within 90 days and PTI’s petition is also about holding elections within 90 days, which means "the matter has become so easy".
Also read: PTI challenges postings, transfers in Punjab by-poll constituencies
Justice Hassan remarked that now it is to be decided who will announce the date for elections.
Barrister Zafar argued that if the governor will not announce the date then the president could announce it. He also implored the court that President Dr Arif Alvi has written a letter to ECP in this regard, adding that it is the executive’s responsibility to provide complete assistance to the ECP in holding elections.
PTI’s lawmakers Fawad Chaudhry and Asad Umar also requested the court not to adjourn the matter by Monday, adding that "it will be the sheer violation of the constitution if the election date is not announced or the elections are not conducted within the stipulated time frame given in the constitution".
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