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Pakistan Supreme Court Orders For Punjab Polls Be Held In May

Women wait for free bread at a bakery in Peshawar as Pakistan grapples with a political and economic crisis

Polls must be held for the assembly in Pakistan’s most populous province next month, the Supreme Court declared Tuesday, voiding a bid to delay voting in Punjab and handing a political victory to opposition leader Imran Khan.

Pakistan has been in political turmoil for a year since Khan was ousted as prime minister last April through a no-confidence vote and replaced by a coalition he has harried with parliamentary manoeuvring and popular rallies calling for snap elections.

In January, Khan dissolved the provincial assemblies in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and eastern Punjab where his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party held majorities — a move designed to pile more pressure on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Under Pakistan’s constitution, elections should have been scheduled within 90 days — a deadline just days away.

However the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) pushed back polling day to October, when a general election is also due, blaming a lack of funds and security threats.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court — which took up the case on its own initiative — on Tuesday declared the delay “unconstitutional, without lawful authority or jurisdiction”.

“Neither the constitution nor the law empowers the commission to extend the date of elections beyond the 90 days,” read the decision seen by AFP.

The court ordered the government to unlock funds for an election in Punjab — Pakistan’s most populous province — to be held by May 14.

A separate application should be made to determine the date of Khyber Pakhtukhwa’s polls, the panel of three Supreme Court judges said.

Senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said the decision was a “huge victory” for Imran Khan, who was shot last year in an assassination attempt he blamed on Sharif.

Last month, the face-off between Khan and the government reached boiling point when police attempted to arrest him over a corruption case, leading to 48 hours of clashes with supporters in Lahore.

“I can only express sorrows and regret over the decision,” law minister Azam Nazeer Tarar told reporters in Islamabad.

“Due to this, the ongoing political and constitutional crisis in the country will deepen,” he said.

As the political drama unfolds, Pakistan is facing a worsening security situation with increasing attacks linked to the domestic chapter of the Taliban.

The economy is also in a nosedive, with inflation at a 50-year high as the nation battles to unlock a desperately needed International Monetary Fund bailout.

On Friday, 12 people died in the southern city of Karachi in a stampede as they gathered to receive charity donations.