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CJP seeks ECP’s response on allotment of additional reserved seats

13-member SC full court takes up SIC's reserved seats case: PML-N, PPP, JUI oppose SIC petition: Justice Minallah says ECP has recognized SIC as political party: Justice Muneeb says no mention in constitution of giving reserved seats to other parties: Justice Isa adjourns hearing until tomorrow

By News Desk

June 3, 2024 10:11 AM


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Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Qazi Faez Isa has said that the Supreme Court will seek response from Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for allotting additional national and provincial assemblies’ reserved seats to other political parties, reported 24NewsHD TV channel.

The CJP made the remarks as a 13-member full court conducted hearing on Monday of the appeals filed by the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly speaker in the SIC’s reserved seats case.

Led by CJP Qazi Faez Isa, the full court included Justices Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Munib Akhtar, Yahya Afridi, Aminuddin Khan, Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Ayesha Malik, Athar Minallah, Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi, Shahid Waheed, Irfan Saadat Khan and Naeem Akhtar Afghan.

Justice Musarrat Hilali is not included on the bench due to health issues.  

The CJP remarked that it was a reality that the SIC had not contested the elections. He then sought record of PTI’s merger into the SIC, saying “How they can accept just one document in this regard?”

The CJP adjourned the hearing of the appeals until Tuesday at 11:30 am.

Earlier in May, the apex court had suspended the Election Commission of Pakistan's (ECP) decision to allocate SIC's reserved seats to other parties.

During the case’s hearing, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah had remarked that the mandate given by the people should be properly represented in parliament.

The SC had also sent the matter of reserved seats to the judges committee to decide whether the case would be heard by the same bench or a larger bench should be constituted.

On March 4, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), while accepting the applications of the opposing parties, had decided that the seats in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies would not remain vacant and would be allocated to other political parties on the basis of seats they had won in the February 8 general elections.

The development resulted in PTI-backed SIC losing a total of 77 reserved seats - 23 National Assembly seats (20 women and 3 minorities), 25 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly seats (21 women and 4 minorities), two Sindh Assembly seats (women) and 27 Punjab Assembly seats (24 women and 3 minority).

The Peshawar High Court had also rejected the petitions filed by the SIC, seeking reserved seats for women and minorities.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JouSMtOM2E

During the hearing on Monday, SIC’s lawyer Advocate Faisal Siddiqui said that political parties like PML-N, PPP, IPP and JUI-F were given additional reserved seats that belonged to the SIC.

Elaborating further, he said that out of 21 such seats distributed among parties in Punjab, 19 were given to the PML-N, while one each to the PPP and IPP.

The chief justice said the bench would seek a reply from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on that.

The counsel for the ECP told the court he would submit his reply after going through details of the allotting of the reserved seats.

The CJP questioned how eight seats of the National Assembly (NA) were distributed among parties in KP. Advocate Siddiqui informed that four were given to the PML-N, two to JUI-F and PPP each. “MQM-P was given one additional seat for women in the Sindh Assembly,” he explained.  

He went on to say that the PML-N and the PPP were given nine and two NA seats in the Punjab Assembly, respectively.

Speaking on the occasion, Justice Athar Minallah said that the ECP had recognized that the SIC was a political party.

Justice Jamal Mandokhel asked whether the ECP had the power to declare a party ‘independent’. “Whether the candidates of a political party can join any other party after getting elected,” he asked.

The CJP asked whether the parties, which had been given additional reserved seats were made respondents in the case. SIC’s lawyer replied in negative.

“Don’t you think that these parties should have been made respondents?” the chief justice questioned.

Agreeing with the CJP’s observation, Advocate Siddiqui said he also hold the same opinion that notices should have been issued to these parties.

Justice Mandokhel asked when a party acknowledged that it had fielded a candidate and the candidate too showed his association with the party, did the ECP have the power to declare that candidate ‘independent’?

Faisal Siddiqi further stated that the allocation of the reserved seats to other parties was in violation of Articles 51(vi)(d) and (e) of the Constitution. He read out an ECP letter dated April 24 as stating that the SIC was a parliamentary party “having 82 general seats in the National Assembly” and was therefore entitled to reserved seats.

CJP Qazi Isa asked who the beneficiaries were in the case and to give a detailed breakdown of the reserved seats distributed to the ruling coalition parties above the initially allocated ones. Complying with the order, the lawyer informed the court that there were 22 seats for women in total in the NA. Siddiqi also pointed out that the electoral watchdog had “made a few mistakes” and had contradictory statements mentioning a total of “77 or 78” such reserved seats.

Justice Isa then asked Siddiqi about the party-wise breakdown of the additional seats allocated to them, which the counsel complied with. Siddiqi then also provided the court with details of such reserved seats in the provincial assemblies.

The CJP then called the ECP counsel to clarify the number of additionally allocated reserved seats for women in the NA, who then told the court that the commission’s position was “23 seats” and was confirming the same.

Siddiqi then also detailed the number of general seats won by each party in the February 8 elections, arguing, “This is important as we (SIC) are recognised as a parliamentary party.”

Justice Minallah here asked Siddiqi about the “chart” listing the above information, at which the lawyer said it was notified by the ECP. “So they have notified the SIC as a parliamentary party,” Justice Minallah observed.

The lawyer recalled that the candidates had joined the SIC within three days of their victory notifications.

Justice Mandokhail asked if the candidates who joined the SIC had received any party affiliation certificate during the nomination process. Justice Minallah repeated the same question: “When those 82 people filed their returns (notifications), did they show any political party’s affiliation?”

At Siddiqi’s response in the affirmative, Justice Mandokhail wondered how they were then called independent candidates. The SIC counsel responded that the ECP had told the candidates they could not contest the elections as a PTI candidate but as an independent. “Then the question arises whether the ECP can declare someone nominated by the party and who also wishes to contest as that party’s candidate as an independent. And secondly, does that candidate have the right that once they submit the nominations, they quit that party?” Justice Mandokhail asked.

CJP Isa asked Siddiqi if any of the beneficiary parties were “supporting” the SIC, to which the lawyer responded with a smile.

The counsels of the PML-N, the PPP, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the PTI-Parliamentarians (PTI-P) then came to rostrum one by one and informed the court that they opposed the SIC’s petition. No counsel was representing the PML-Q, the Awami National Party (ANP) or the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP).

CJP Isa then asked Siddiqi if the SIC was a political party and to show the court its registration, to which he replied that the ECP had “recognised the party and there was no dispute on it”.

When Justice Mandokhail asked if the PTI had made its candidates contest the general elections, CJP Isa said, “I request my colleague to let you argue in your style, and then we will ask you questions later.”

The SIC counsel then detailed the election schedule before the apex court. Referring to a document, Siddiqi said, “I would have filed that but our office has been sealed so all our documents are in that office. That’s why we’re handicapped.”

The CJP said, “Don’t make a fleeting statement. If you want an order, we will pass an order. If your case is affected by it, we would want that document. How will we know Mr Faisal Siddiqi? There is only one way to know something that is by filing something in the court.”

At this point, Gohar came to the rostrum, at which Justice Isa remarked, “I don’t want him to address; please don’t do this. If you have to file an application, you may do so.”

After Siddiqi detailed the back-and-forth court verdicts leading to the revocation of the PTI’s electoral symbol, Justice Mandokhail asked whether the PTI maintained its status as a political party after losing its symbol. He further asked whether the PTI also lost “other rights accorded to it under the election laws” or if it could still issue certificates to candidates. “It was presented as if the party has been demolished and democracy’s funeral was held; do they speak the truth?” the judge asked.

Justice Minallah asked if the PTI was an “enlisted party of the ECP”, adding the clarification to that would answer the main question.

Justice Muneeb Akhtar remarked that nowhere in the constitution it had been laid down that reserved seats belonging to a political party could be distributed among other parties. “How a party can be deprived of reserved seats even when it has lost its election symbol?” he questioned.  

As per the constitution of the ECP, the judge added, the principle of proportional representation could not be ignored.

Justice Mandokhel said this implied that the PTI existed as a political party and that it had submitted papers for the reserved seats. 

Justice Minallah asked whether it was not the duty of the election commission to protect the rights of all political parties. “Whether the ECP can treat a certain political party differently from others,” he asked.

Advocate Siddiqui said that the ECP, in its decision dated December 22, 2023, had snatched from the PTI its election symbol, which the Peshawar High Court (PHC) declared null and void on January 10, 2024.

“But only three days later, the apex court, on January 13, declared the PHC’s verdict null and void,” he recalled.

Justice Minallah said that the last date for the submission of nomination papers for the February 8 general elections was December 22, 2023.

Justice Mandokhel asked whether in the light of Article 17, a political party ceased to exist after losing its election symbol. “Can’t a party field its candidates after it loses its symbol?”

The impression, he went on to say, was given as if the political party in question had ceased to exist and was now history.

Justice Minallah asked whether a political party lost all its rights after electoral symbol was snatched from it.

 

Reporter Amanat Gishkori

 

 


News Desk


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