Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered on Tuesday that elections in two provinces should go ahead by May 15 despite government reluctance to hold the votes now as it struggles with an economic crisis and a political challenge from the opposition.
Ousted prime minister Imran Khan has been pushing for assembly elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces as part of a campaign to force an early general election that he has waged since being forced from office a year ago after losing a vote of confidence.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has rejected Khan’s call for an early general election and his government had backed an election commission delay in the votes in the two provinces to Oct. 8.
The commission cited a lack of resources and the government agreed saying it was not possible to organise the provincial elections while the country was struggling with an economic crisis and with a general election due around early October anyway.
But the Supreme Court ruled that the delay was illegal and voting in the two provinces should be held between April 30 and May 15.
Khan’s party hailed the ruling but the government said it spelt trouble.
“It will deepen the country’s crisis,” Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar told a news conference.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party and its allies had governed in both of the provinces and had dissolved their assemblies early hoping to force Sharif’s government to agree to their demand for the early general election.
The court, according to a copy of its ruling seen by Reuters, said the delay was unconstitutional and unlawful.
It said the provincial assembly election in Punjab, Pakistan’s most prosperous and politically important province should be on May 14.
The date of the vote in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would be decided later, pending technical issues, the court
The court also ordered the government to release 21 billion rupees ($73.17 million) to the election commission to organise the two provincial elections.
The Supreme Court’s ruling also highlights the latest bout of tension between the top court and a government in a country with a long tradition of a politically active judiciary.
Parliament last week introduced a draft law to clip the powers of the Supreme Court.