Pakistan’s government has sparked a new constitutional crisis by presenting a bill in the National Assembly that seeks to limit the powers of the Supreme Court. The move came after the top court took notice of the delay in holding provincial elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, which were dissolved by former Prime Minister Imran Khan last year.
The bill called the Supreme Court (Practice and Procedure) Act, 2023, proposes to set up a three-member panel headed by the chief justice to take up suo motu cases, which are initiated by the court itself on matters of public interest. The government accused the court of “judicial activism” and “political instability” in a resolution passed on Tuesday.
Khan, who heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, has slammed the government for trying to clip the discretionary powers of the chief justice, saying that the move was aimed at putting more pressure on the judiciary. He said that the government was afraid of facing fresh elections and wanted to escape accountability.
The clash between the government and the court stems from Khan’s removal from power through a parliamentary vote of confidence in April last year. Khan launched a countrywide campaign to demand immediate national elections, otherwise scheduled later this year. He also dissolved the provincial assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces in January, hoping to force the elections.
However, according to Pakistan’s constitution, elections must be held within 90 days of the dissolution of a legislative assembly. But a deadlock emerged when the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) did not announce an election schedule, forcing President Arif Alvi, a member of Khan’s PTI, to unilaterally declare April 9 as the poll date in the two provinces.
The Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the ECP’s delay on February 22 and summoned its officials to explain why they had not announced an election schedule. The court also questioned the president’s authority to fix an election date without consulting the ECP.
The government has defended its bill as a necessary step to reform the judicial system and prevent interference in political matters. The opposition parties have supported the court’s stance and accused the government of undermining democracy and the rule of law.
The bill is likely to face legal challenges and protests from civil society groups and lawyers’ associations, who have expressed their solidarity with the judiciary. The bill also needs to be passed by the Senate, where the government does not have a majority before it can become law.