A three-member bench of the Supreme Court, chaired by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, observed on Wednesday that the judiciary did not want to play a role in political affairs. He made this observation during the hearing of a petition on financial and other reforms of elections by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). The PTI counsel had argued in favour of judicial officers conducting elections. Justice Chaudhry noted that the judicial officers had been withdrawn in the light of the 2009 Judicial Policy, ensuring that no judicial officer served on an executive post. It was not mentioned during the hearing, though it had come up earlier, and had been the basis of a tussle between the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the court, that the voters’ list had not been reformed, and if the list was defective, whether the presiding officer conducting the poll came from the judiciary or the executive, the result would be at best defective, at worst manipulated. The PTI has already agitated the Supreme Court (SC) about the rolls, and it has given the ECP a deadline for the task. However, if the ECP was to make this task a perpetual exercise, as the Constitution envisages, it would spare itself embarrassment and hurry in completing the task. The SC heard a number of other suggestions: banning of candidates providing transport to voters, use of federal government employees instead of local government staff, and use of the military in place of the police for security. But it did not seem that any of those suggestions found favour with the court. The SC at one point observed, “We will not tolerate the corrupt practices and will take action wherever corruption is reported,” underlining its commitment to upholding the rule of law.

Though the SC could issue necessary orders, it is Parliament which passes the Representation of the Peoples Act under which elections are held. It is thus the wisdom of the Supreme Court that restrains it in its decisions. However, in the current case, it should also be clear that the PTI does not see its way to a fair electoral process. However, the matters that have been raised pale when compared to the problems with the electoral rolls, particularly since the ECP has not acted efficiently and transparently in updating them. The availability of a correct list is the basis of fair elections, and that is the goal the PTI needs to achieve.