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Pakistani government plans to weaken judiciary’s power with Contempt of Court law amendments

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The Pakistani government is planning to amend the Contempt of Court law to avoid legal trouble after the Supreme Court ordered it to provide Rs21 billion in funds to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) by April 10 for the Punjab elections. The amendments to Article 204 of the Constitution, which empowers the court to punish any person who disobeys an order or interferes with the court’s process, will be approved by the Parliament. The government aims to remove the provision of contempt law from the Constitution with a two-thirds majority.

The federal cabinet had failed to make a decision for issuing funds to the ECP for the Punjab elections earlier in the day. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired a crucial session of the federal cabinet, which decided to expand the scope of consultations for issuing funds to the ECP for the Punjab elections. The cabinet members decided to take the matter to the Parliament and seek its opinion as it is the superior institution besides exhibiting reservations on the SC’s three-member bench’s verdict. The members also agreed on maintaining the supremacy of the Parliament.

The Supreme Court’s three-member bench, comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and Justice Munib Akhtar, declared the ECP’s order postponing the provincial assembly elections until October 8 as unconstitutional and ordered the government to release Rs21 billion funds for elections in Punjab by April 10.

The Election Commission of Pakistan announced the schedule for elections in Punjab, which will be held on May 14. The polling for the Punjab Assembly elections will be held on May 14, 2023, according to the electoral watchdog (ECP) notification. The ECP also withdrew its earlier schedule regarding the holding of general elections in Punjab in October.

The government’s move to amend the Contempt of Court law is being seen as an attempt to weaken the judiciary’s power and circumvent court orders. The government’s inability to provide funds to the ECP for the Punjab elections despite repeated court orders reflects poorly on its commitment to democracy and transparent elections. The Supreme Court’s order to release funds to the ECP is critical for the smooth conduct of elections in Punjab, and any attempt to subvert it will be detrimental to Pakistan’s democratic credentials.

The government should uphold the Constitution’s principles and respect the judiciary’s independence and power. It should provide funds to the ECP as directed by the Supreme Court and ensure free and fair elections in Punjab. The Parliament should carefully consider any amendments to the Constitution and ensure that they do not compromise the judiciary’s autonomy or weaken democracy in Pakistan.

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