Pakistan top court delays ruling on political crisis

Multiple petitions challenge Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to dissolve parliament amid political turmoil.

Pakistan political crisis
A motorcyclist rides past a billboard with the picture of Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan display outside the National Assembly, in Islamabad [File: Anjum Naveed/AP]

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s Supreme Court has adjourned without ruling on the legality of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s move to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

A five-judge bench of Pakistan’s top court is hearing multiple petitions challenging Khan’s dissolution of parliament, which set the stage for national elections.

During Tuesday’s proceedings, the court said it still has to hear more arguments on the crisis and that the hearings would continue on Wednesday.

Parliament’s Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri dissolved the assembly on Sunday ahead of planned a no-confidence vote that Khan appeared set to lose, saying the motion was part of a foreign conspiracy. The opposition says the move was unconstitutional.

“Once a motion for the no-confidence (against the prime minister) is tabled in the house, he cannot dissolve assemblies,” Senator Raza Rabbani from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said.

The court has sought the record of National Assembly proceedings conducted on the no-confidence motion, in order to ascertain the constitutionality of the steps taken by the deputy speaker.

“Imran Khan has declared 196 members of the house [from the opposition] as traitors through a ruling of the deputy speaker. If you have the evidence then submit it before the court,” opposition leader in the National Assembly and president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Shehbaz Sharif told reporters outside the court.

“I demand army chief and DG ISI to take notice of this issue and produce evidence in the Supreme Court if we have committed treason,” Sharif said, marking the first time the country’s powerful military establishment has been asked to play a role in the crisis.

The standoff has thrown the country of 220 million people, which the military has ruled for almost half its history since independence in 1947, into a full-blown constitutional crisis.

‘Fresh elections imminent’

Legal experts say the court ruling could have major implications for democracy in Pakistan, where no prime minister has ever fulfilled a full term.

“We expect the Supreme Court to defend the Constitution and set the course for the future of the political system as per the provisions of the constitution and the aspirations of the people of Pakistan,” former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told Al Jazeera.

“The Constitution of Pakistan has been blatantly violated, and if the decisions of the Supreme Court are also violated then the country will plunge into anarchy,” the PML-N politician said.

If Khan prevails, elections would take place within 90 days. The opposition also wants an early election, albeit after delivering a political defeat to Khan by removing him through a parliamentary vote.

“I think fresh elections are now imminent,” political analyst Sohail Warraich told Al Jazeera.

Khan, who is still serving as the prime minister, censured the opposition for challenging the dissolution of assemblies and fresh elections.

“The PML-N is ready for fresh elections but abrogation of the constitution could not be overlooked,” Khawaja Asif, former defence minister, told reporters outside the court.

Similarly, Senator Sherry Rehman of the PPP said “early elections” had been the demand of her party.

According to media reports, President Arif Alvi has started the consultation process with the opposition leader for the appointment of a caretaker setup. Sharif has denied receiving an “official letter”.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has said it was not possible to hold elections in three months.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, told Al Jazeera that the ECP’s statement was “surprising”.

“The poll body is supposed to be ready to hold elections,” he said.

Mehboob said that the speaker’s ruling to dismiss the no-confidence vote was “unconstitutional”.

“All eyes are on the court decision that will determine the country’s future,” Warraich said.

Source: Al Jazeera