ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top judge insisted on Thursday that historic elections should be held on time, warning the government and the military against delaying the polls scheduled to take place by mid-May.
The order came amid speculation that the military is working with the judiciary to force out a civilian leader and delay the elections that will mark the first time a civilian government in Pakistan has completed a full term since independence in 1947.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry made the remarks after a senior official wrote to the president accusing the Supreme Court (SC) of putting “extreme pressure” on officers investigating graft allegations against top politicians.
“The executive, both civilian and military, will not take any actions and steps that are tantamount to delaying the election in the name of judiciary and judges on the basis of this letter,” Chaudhry told the court.
“Deviation from the constitution or introducing any other system not recognised by the constitution shall not be acceptable.” The general election is expected in May.
Chaudhry summoned Fasih Bokhari, the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) anti-corruption watchdog, to appear on Feb.4 to answer accusations of contempt for the contents of his letter to President Asif Ali Zardari.
In the letter, Bokhari accused Supreme Court judges of trying to influence Pakistan’s upcoming parliamentary elections.
Chaudhry said the letter amounted to interference in court matters and was an effort to incite against the judiciary.
If we don’t react to this adequately, “people will lose confidence in the courts,” he said, adding that the Supreme Court wanted to know why Bokhari went to such lengths as to write a letter to the president.
Chaudhry stressed that the top court fully backs the holding of free and fair elections, and that no one will be allowed to derail the democratic process.
Bokhari’s clash with the judiciary stems from his refusal in mid-January to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf over a corruption case involving kickbacks allegedly taken by the premier.
Bokhari refused to arrest Ashraf, citing lack of evidence.
Mainstream commentators, members of the government and opposition politicians are publicly united that elections must be held on time by mid-May.
It will mark the first democratic transition of power between two civilian governments in the history of Pakistan, where the military have staged three coups.
But earlier this week, a leading senator from the main ruling Pakistan People’s Party claimed a conspiracy was being hatched “by certain elements” to delay the election by two or three years.
Raza Rabbani also reportedly said efforts were being made to create conditions similar to those in 1977, when General Zia ul-Haq seized power after elections were clouded by violence and allegations of vote-rigging.
Pakistan’s judiciary has been at loggerheads for years with the civilian government over a series of corruption and contempt cases, which brought down then-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in June 2012.
The Supreme Court on Jan.15 ordered the arrest of his successor, Raja Pervez Ashraf. The move sparked rumours of a “soft coup” since it coincided with a protest by tens of thousands camped outside parliament and calling for reform.