Sunday, December 14, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Dec 15, 2014

SC on polls results The Supreme Court (SC) has delivered its detailed judgement on the petitions seeking an annulment of the 2013 polls on the basis of systematic and widespread rigging. The three-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk observed that election results could not be challenged in any other way except by approaching the Election Tribunals (ETs). The petitions were dismissed on the grounds that no evidence was presented that could form the basis for notices to the impugned respondents. These respondents would have included the government, election commission, NADRA and the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. The court pointed out to the counsel of the petitioners that he was only relying on printed news items. In the absence of naming specific authorities deemed responsible, no direction could be given. The counsel was confronted with the non-maintainability of the petitions since Article 225 of the constitution generally ousted the purview of the high courts or any other court except the ETs in election matters. There are only a few exceptions to this general rule whereby the courts’ jurisdiction can be exercised under Article 199, but election results could not be challenged anywhere else except before the ETs. The SC further inquired of the counsel whether the entire elections could be annulled under any provisions of the law or constitution. Since the counsel had nothing to assist the court on these questions, the SC put the lid on the matter. Now that the SC has clearly enunciated the law on the subject of challenging election results, it beggars the mind why Imran Khan has been banging away at the doors of the SC for ‘justice’ in the matter of the alleged stolen mandate in the 2013 elections. The PTI has many capable legal brains in its ranks. A bare reading of Article 225 (even by a layman) makes the constitutional and legal position more than clear. Similarly, why has the PTI been as tardy as it has over the last year and a half in pursuing its cases before the ETs? Apart from the (by now) famous four seats’ results it challenged soon after the 2013 polls, a total of some 30 cases were instituted by the party before the ETs. Not all of them have reached conclusion yet (partly because of the PTI’s failure to pursue them, partly the inherent slowness of our judicial procedures), but the few that have been finally adjudicated indicate that not all of them will go the PTI’s way. And even if they did, the logic of numbers suggests they may cause a minor dent at best, but would not overturn the PML-N government’s majority. What is all the hullaballoo about then? It should be recalled that initially, with the possible exception of the four seats mentioned above, Imran Khan had accepted the results and even congratulated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his victory. Why then, did Imran Khan suddenly seem to have had an epiphany this summer? The whole country has been held hostage to the PTI agitation since August, with nerves frayed by the long drawn confrontation, the economy disrupted, business confidence flushed down the sink hole, and no end in sight. Now, after all these perambulations, the two protagonists are once more poised to return to the negotiating table. If the talks are held in good faith and not as merely a tactic to prolong the crisis, the government has practically and in its statements (repeatedly) conceded the demand for a judicial commission to probe the elections and set up a parliamentary committee to recommend electoral reforms. In line with its half-in, half-out stance on the Assemblies (with the exception of course of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), the PTI has not participated in these deliberations in parliament. What remains, and hopefully will transpire when these talks get to grips with the terms of reference of the judicial commission this week, is for the process to move forward and give the suffering people of Pakistan a breather from the tension that grips the country. After a peaceful rally in Karachi the other day (in contrast with what happened in Faisalabad), the PTI is all set to show its political muscle in Lahore. The governments at the Centre and in Punjab seem to have imbibed the lessons of Faisalabad and Karachi and ordered PML-N workers not to confront the PTI and allow the protest to proceed peacefully. Such an outcome is very much within democratic and legal norms. Both sides need to take a step back and calmly see through the protest in Lahore today while getting down earnestly to the task of rescuing the country and the democratic system from a continuing, and arguably fruitless, state of siege.

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