PHC rejects PTI plea for polls under judiciary’s supervision
PESHAWAR: Peshawar High Court on Thursday declared as not maintainable and rejected plea of a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader, challenging the last month Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) notifications of appointing executive officers as district returning officers and returning officers.
A bench consisting of PHC Chief Justice Mohammad Ibrahim Khan and Justice Shakeel Ahmad referred to an order of Supreme Court of December 15 and ruled: “In view of the above, we are of the view that Hon’ble Supreme Court has already taken cognisance of the matter, in which final judgment is yet to be passed, therefore, we lay our hands off in this matter.”
“For the foregoing reasons, we without commenting upon merits of the case, conclude that this petition, on the face of it, is factually and legally not maintainable, therefore, the same is hereby dismissed in limine,” the bench observed.
The bench had reserved its judgment on December 18 over the petition filed by senior lawyer and spokesperson for PTI Mohammad Muazzam Butt, seeking orders for ECP to hold general elections in the province through judicial officers under the supervision of judiciary. The petitioner had also sought orders for ECP and provincial government and governor not to interfere in the poll process.
PHC divisional bench declares petition not maintainable
In almost identical matter, Supreme Court had on December 15 suspended an order of Lahore High Court about suspending ECP’s notifications for appointing district returning officers (DROs), returning officers (ROs) and assistant returning officers (AROs) for the polls.
Initially, when the petition was filed in November 2023, ECP had not issued the December 11 notifications of appointment of DROs, ROs and AROs. As allowed by the court, the petitioner then filed an amended plea, wanting the notifications to be set aside.
“To maintain the purity of elections and in particular to bring transparency in the process of elections, an Election Commission was constituted under Article 218 of Constitution, and to conduct elections is exclusive function of the commission. Elections are thus essential to maintain the democratic process and public trust in the political system of this country,” the bench observed in its 22-page detailed judgment authored by Justice Shakeel Ahmad.
It further states: “Elections play a key role in upholding the principles of democracy, ensuring that the will of people is respected and that leadership is answerable and accountable to the people.”
“As and when election programme or schedule is announced, it is essential for any litigation or legal challenges related to election to be resolved at the earliest. Delay in holding election or prolonging the election disputes can undermine public confidence in the electoral process and the democratic system as a whole, which may lead to uncertainty and destabilisation of political set up of the country,” the court observed.
The bench has also quoted relevant portions of SC and LHC orders in its judgment.
The petitioner, Muazzam Butt, argued that 771 cases were registered under section 3 of Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance against the workers and leaders of PTI by the deputy commissioners of different districts, which were declared as illegal and void by the high court.
He provided details of all those cases and also copies of the judgments of high court, arguing that free polls were not possible under supervision of the same executive officers, who have now been appointed as DROs.
He said that the caretaker provincial government and governor were controversial and the appointed DROs and ROs were administrative officers functioning under them, therefore, free and fair polls would not be possible through them.
ECP’s counsel Mohsin Kamran Siddique pleaded that through various letters, the high court’s registrar was requested to provide list of judicial officers to be appointed as DROs, ROs and AROs, but it was responded that being a policy matter, the commission should approach National Judicial Policy Making Committee to decide the form of help to be extended in the conduct of elections by the judiciary.
The advocate general, Aamir Javed, and the additional attorney general, Sanaullah Khan, represented the provincial and federal governments, respectively.
Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2024