LHC suspends ECP order seeking ROs from bureaucracy for general elections

Deciding on PTI’s plea, LHC sent case to LHC CJ and recommended constituting larger bench to hear the case

The Lahore High Court’s (LHC) building in Lahore. — LHC website 
  • LHC suspends ECP notification for bureaucracy help to conduct general elections. 
  • PTI pleaded that fair elections can’t be expected under caretaker govt. 
  • Court says billions of rupees will be wasted if major political parties do not accept the election results.

LAHORE: The Election Commission of Pakistan’s notification requesting returning officers from the bureaucracy for the general elections on February 8 has been suspended by the Lahore High Court.

Announcing his reserved verdict on a petition filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Justice Ali Baqir Najafi referred the case to the LHC Chief Justice, recommending constituting a larger bench to hear the case.

Petitioner Umair Niazi contended before the one-judge LHC bench that the Election Commission has contacted the government for returning officers, adding that impartial and transparent elections could not be expected from a caretaker government. He requested the court to annul the ECP’s notification.

During the hearing, the ECP’s counsel requested the court to reject the petition as inadmissible, contending the commission wrote letters to the judiciary, but it refused to provide judicial officers. The counsel added that the ECP is responsible for conducting fair and transparent elections.

The order stated that though section 50(1)(b) and section 51(1) of the relevant law empowers the ECP to appoint returning officers from a list provided by the government and Assistant Returning Officer from amongst its own officers, officers of any government or government-controlled bodies, “the Article 218(3) of the Constitution castes a “sacred duty of the Election Commission of Pakistan to organize and conduct the elections and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and that corrupt practices are guarded against.”

The order noted, “For this, the Election Commission of Pakistan is charged with the duty to organize and conduct the elections by making all necessary arrangements in anticipation of and adherence to the standards of justness, fairness and honesty

The order said, “To lend greater credibility to the election process in the country by ensuring the compliance of Constitutional requirement of Article 218(3), the Election Commission can take pre-emptive steps. Chief Election Commissioner is independent constitutional authority without traces of subservience and executive authorities are bound to assist him in organizing or holding elections.”

The order stated, “On factual ground, the apparent absence of a level playing field for the political party of the petitioner is visible to all and has also been seriously noted by many independent groups. With top political leadership locked inside the jail or gone underground the electioneering by his political party would be a big question mark. The apprehension of the petitioner of avoiding fair and free elections by the Election Commission of Pakistan appears to be well founded as some District Returning Officer, Returning Officers and Assistant Returning Officers are appointed from the presently posted members of Administration throughout the country with whom the petitioner’s political party does not inspire any confidence.”

The order said that undoubtedly, the holding of general elections costs this poor nation billions of rupees which may be wasted if major political parties do not accept the election results. “The intention of the Election Commission to conduct free, fair, impartial elections is yet to be transformed into reality by providing equal opportunities to the candidates for conveyancing and voters to vote with their choice without fear of anyone. In the present scenario general elections may not give the desired results which may undermine the future of democracy in our country,” the order maintained.

“Keeping in view the importance of the legal interpretation of the constitutional provisions having legal effect deeply connected to the raised national issue, office is directed to place this file before the Hon’ble Chief Justice for the constitution of a Larger Bench.”

“Meanwhile, the Notification ….. issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan appointing the District Returning Officers, Returning Officers, Assistant Returning Officers from Executive shall remain suspended.

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