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Pakistan govt and judiciary in new standoff amid economic turmoil


Police officers walk past the Supreme Court of Pakistan building, in Islamabad, Pakistan April 6, 2022. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo

Pakistan’s parliament on Thursday ruled against providing funds for provincial snap polls ordered by the Supreme Court, creating new discord between the judiciary and government amid months of political and economic turmoil.

The chief justice had already summoned government finance officials to his chamber on Friday to seek a reply on the funds, warning that non-compliance would have consequences.

Parliament’s ruling came hours after the government rejected a panel set up and headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial that was due to rule on a draft law clipping his own powers, claiming conflict of interest.

The standoffs come with Pakistan facing soaring inflation and an acute balance of payments crisis as talks with the IMF to secure $1.1 billion funding, part of a $6.5 billion bailout package agreed to in 2019, have so far yielded no results.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government says it is not economically viable to hold snap elections, in two provinces where former leader Imran Khan had dissolved the local governments this year, ahead of a general election due in October.

A parliamentary finance committee said it was not possible to spare 21 billion rupees ($74.79 million) in funds for the snap polls, said government adviser Ata Tarar.

The committee had acted on a money bill moved by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar earlier this week to seek the funds.

House Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf made the ruling against providing the funds in a live television broadcast.

Voting is constitutionally mandated within 90 days of the dissolution of a legislative assembly.

The Supreme Court had ordered snap polls in the most populated Punjab province to be held on May 14, and said a date could be agreed later for the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, pending some technical issues.

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