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A five-member Supreme Court panel began hearing suo motu cases on Monday in what can best be described as a true reflection of the turbulent times we live in. The cases concern constitutional issues related to the dissolution of the Punjab and KP assemblies and the requirement that elections be held within 90 days of the dissolution. Four judges recused themselves from the proceedings, prompting the earlier nine-member panel to be reconstituted.
The proceedings were started last week by the chief justice of Pakistan in response to a deadlock between institutions in the toxic political climate that exists right now. The president decided to announce the election dates for both legislatures after their chilly debate that had further aggravated the situation. Against this backdrop, the CJP took action to address the lack of clarity on a subject of high constitutional significance.
The PDM and the Pakistan Bar Council have questioned the makeup of the nine-member bench hearing the suo motu proceedings, and the government has requested that the entire court hear the case without the two judges who the government parties claim should not be hearing cases involving them. However, things have not been entirely peaceful on the judicial front either.
In addition, four of the judges on the panel had expressed concerns about the makeup of the bench in their additional notes on a number of different bases. The most recent development is therefore likely to make things even more complicated rather than allaying the worries of different stakeholders.
It goes without saying that the top court of the land must remain impartial and refrain from getting involved in political disputes. It may be feasible to resolve the current impasse while upholding the Supreme Court’s honor by having the entire court hear this significant constitutional case.
Some of the SC judges themselves have supported the need for a full court to hear a case of such critical importance, which supports this point of view. Additionally, one of the justices on the newly assembled court had expressed concerns about the participation of a brother judge, calling it “inappropriate.”
Under any circumstances, constitutional requirements must be adhered to and not ignored. It can safely be argued that the government should consider calling early general elections if the KP and Punjab caretaker administrations believe it is not possible to conduct elections within the 90-day window in order to find a way out of this constitutional impasse.