The Supreme Court of Pakistan Monday sought guarantees from the government and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to bury the hatchet for free, fair, and transparent elections as it issued notices to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for dragging feet on polls in Punjab. A five-member larger bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, heard the plea. The court also issued notices to governors of two provinces through the chief secretary. “The court only needs assurance from both sides. The elections should be peaceful, transparent, and fair. If the government and PTI want elections, they have to give assurances,” Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial said. “The parties should evaluate what is and what isn’t good for the public. Pakistan’s Constitution was not made for only setting up or toppling the governments,” he remarked suggesting it was more than that. At the outset of the proceedings, Barrister Zafar said that the apex court, in its March 1 orders, had instructed the ECP to decide on a date for elections in Punjab and KP. Presenting his arguments in the SC, the PTI lawyer said: “On March 8, the ECP issued the schedule for elections in Punjab, whereas the KP governor did not announce a date for the polls.” He contended that the electoral watchdog had thrice committed violations, explaining that the ECP had rejected the election schedule announced by the president. Zafar further said that the electoral body has now delayed the elections till October 8, arguing that “it does not have the authority to give a new date for the polls”. “The election commission has violated the 90-day period [for announcing the date of elections]. As per the Constitution, the ECP does not have the right to change the date [for polls] or extend the 90-day deadline,” he said, stressing that the ECP “overlooked” the court’s orders. Here, Justice Mandokhail asked: “What do you want from court?” To this, Barrister Zafar replied that the petitioner wanted the SC to ensure the implementation of the Constitution and its own orders. “The execution of court orders is the responsibility of the high court,” Justice Mandokhail replied. Meanwhile, the PTI lawyer said that if the reason for the delay in polls – as given by the ECP – was accepted, then “elections will never take place”. “The matter does not just concern the court’s orders.”The matter of elections in two provinces cannot be heard by one high court,” he reasoned, adding that the SC had earlier used its authority on the matter and still had jurisdiction over it. At that, Justice Akhtar said that the ECP’s decision has become “an obstruction in the orders of the SC”. “Only the Supreme Court can decide better whether the orders were violated or not,” the judge observed. At one point during the hearing, Barrister Zafar asked: “What is the guarantee that the security situation will improve by October?” Here, CJP Bandial asked if the ECP could set aside the poll date given by the president, noting that there was no past order from the SC regarding the matter. “We have several examples in our history where the date for elections has been extended,” he pointed out, recalling that elections were also delayed after the death of Benazir Bhutto and the decision was accepted on a national level. “Elections were also delayed in 1988 when the system of government changed,” he said, adding that no one had challenged the matter of extending the date for polls so far. “Elections in KP and Punjab are a matter of the fundamental rights of the people of the provinces,” the top judge observed. He also asked if there was any provision in the Constitution to determine the term of a caretaker government. Justice Mandokhail further inquired if the date given by the president was within the stipulated 90-day deadline. Here, Justice Ahsan said that the ECP had proposed three dates following the SC’s March 1 verdict, of which the president had selected April 30 for polls in Punjab. He also said that the ECP had given the schedule for polls after the date was finalised. On the other hand, Barrister Zafar said that an interim government’s responsibility was holding elections within 90 days. “It is not possible that the elections are extended from 90 days to five months.” At that, Justice Ahsan remarked that earlier the ECP’s stance was that it cannot set a polling date but had now gone ahead and given a new date for elections. “Is this not a contradiction in its position?” he asked. While referring to the apex court’s March 1 orders, Justice Akhtar maintained that the judgement was signed by all the five judges. “Don’t be mistaken that the SC had issued two judgements. “A dissenting note is very common,” he added. Justice Bandial said the court “needs assurance that elections would be held in a transparent manner”.