Pakistan govt and judiciary in new standoff amid economic and political turmoil

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Pakistan’s government on Thursday rejected a panel set up and headed by the chief justice that is due to rule on a draft law clipping his powers, claiming conflict of interest, the latest standoff amid months of economic and political turmoil.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government is involved in a row with the Supreme Court over the holding of snap polls in two provinces where former leader Imran Khan had dissolved the local governments this year in a bid to force early elections.

The government says it is not economically viable to hold snap elections first ahead of a general election due in October.

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Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial on Wednesday set up a panel of eight judges, to be headed by himself, that on Thursday started discussing the draft law, according to the court’s cause list.

The draft law, which has been passed by parliament and sent to the president for assent, cuts down the chief justice’s powers to constitute panels, hear appeals or assign cases to judges in his team, according to a copy of the bill.

“We reject this panel,” Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, flanked by all of the government’s coalition partners, told a news conference in Islamabad. “We expect that this panel will be dissolved today.”

Tarar said there was clear conflict of interest and called on the chief justice to quit.

A parliamentary finance committee on Thursday rejected a bill to issue 21 billion rupees ($73.87 million) in funds for the snap polls, Sharif’s aide, Ata Tarar, said.

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

The row between the government and the judiciary comes amid economic turmoil, with record inflation and an acute balance of payments crisis, while talks with the IMF to secure $1.1 billion funding as part of a $6.5 billion bailout agreed to in 2019 have not yet yielded fruit.

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