As the incumbent government in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) is going to complete its five-year term on June 24, the Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday allowed the federal government to set up an interim government and conduct the next election through a presidential order as the existing law is silent for the same.
The federal government had moved apex court to get permission for required legislation as the court, through its verdict on January 17, 2019, had asked the government to avoid any amendment in GB Governance Reform, 2019,
Headed by the chief justice, the seven-judge bench of the SC had taken up a federal government’s application to seek amendment in the Government of GB Order, 2018, to conduct the upcoming general election by adopting the Election Act, 2017, and subsequent rules and regulations, as well as setting up of the caretaker government during the interregnum period.
“After hearing the parties, we have allowed the federal government’s application with consensus, the reasons of which will be recorded later,” Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed observed during the hearing on Thursday.
According to Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan, the rules related to formation of interim government and conducting next election would be extended to the region government through a separate promulgation of presidential order without making any changes to the GB Order, 2018.
The GB Reform, 2019, which was part of the apex court’s decision on January 17, 2019, was still pending. Citing reasons about delaying implementation on the GB Reform, 2019, for over one year, the AGP explained that the federal government wanted further deliberation on the order. “We are trying to go beyond that order for empowering GB keeping in view the development related to Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK),” he explained.
“You spent over 13 months for, what you say, ‘going beyond’ that order,” Justice Ejazul Ahsan remarked.
However, the AGP explained, the government has to look and analyse the regional situation of the area before implementing the apex court’s January 17, 2019, verdict which asked for the rights of the citizens of the GB. Under the judgment, the federal government is required to enact the GB Governance Reforms, 2019, by tabling a bill before the parliament for bringing necessary amendments. But in the absence of GB Governance Reforms, 2019, the Government of GB Order, 2018, is still in the field. However, the 2018 order lacks provisions that provide a mechanism for the installation of the caretaker government after the expiry of the present GB Assembly.
That mechanism is available in the 2019 SC order through Section 56(5) of the reforms. Through the presidential order, the federal government will incorporate Section 56(5) in the 2018 order and adopt Election Act, 2017, to conduct the next general elections in the territory.
During the hearing, GB advocate general, who was earlier summoned by the court for Thursday, told the apex court that the regional government had no objection over the extension of election rules to GB. He said what the federal government was seeking was the need of the GB government, while emphasising that the Election Act, 2017, has not been extended to the territory of GB.
Through its application, the federal government had earlier pleaded before the apex court that till the promulgation of the proposed reforms in GB, the government may be allowed to make necessary amendments in the government of GB Order, 2018, for the caretaker government and the conduct of elections for the GB Assembly. Permission was also sought to adapt the Election Act, 2017, rules and regulations thereunder and to do all that is necessary to continue democratic electoral process in the area.
During the hearing Advocate Salman Akram Raja who represented the GB Chief Court Bar Association and GB Bar Council, opposed the federal government’s application saying that they were seeking amendment in the law which they have not even amended. The 2019 SC verdict had come on a set of petitions challenging the GB Order, 2018, GB Empowerment and Self Governance Order, 2009, as well as the right of the citizens of the area to be governed through their chosen representatives. The GB Order, 2018, was opposed through these petitions demanding that GB be declared a part of Pakistan instead of being administered through presidential orders.
The apex court on Thursday, however, said that it would take up other pending petitions like contempt of court case against the federal government after the Eid holidays.