ISLAMABAD, April 1: The Supreme Court laid down on Monday stringent rules for legislators and suggested to them to disclose everything while filing nomination papers because they would have to be chosen by electors as their representatives. There was no room for an incorrect statement or mis-declaration in the papers, it said.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry provided another opportunity to 189 lawmakers to get their certificates verified by April 5 from the Higher Education Commission (HEC) through the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
The list surprises many as it contains a number of big names -- former leader of the opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Afrasiab Khattak, Sardar Mohammad Jamal Khan Leghari, Engineer Amir Muqam, Bushra Gohar, Attiya Inayatullah, Begum Shahnaz Sheikh, Chaudhry Naseer Ahmed Bhutta, Mahreen Anwar Raja, Mukhdoon Javed Hashmi, Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, Mian Manzoor Ahmed Khan Wattoo, Bilal Yaseen, Ghulam Farid Khathia, Imtiaz Safdar Warriach, Samina Khalid Ghurki, Rukhsana Bangash, Sardar Mohammad Arshad Khan Leghari, Shahbaz Bhatti, Sardar Sanaullah Khan Zehri, Malik Nauman Ahmed Langriyal, Qasim Zia and Nadia Gabol. These former members of parliament and provincial assemblies are yet to submit their educational certificates to the HEC for verification despite repeated reminders over the last two and a half years that their failure to do so would render them disqualified.
The bench had taken up the case of the legislators whose degrees were yet to be verified. The hearing was adjourned to April 8. The court directed the ECP to ask all returning officers to withhold the assessment of nomination papers of those legislators who intended to contest the elections again till the time the HEC decided about the authenticity of their certificates.
The HEC is required to issue notices to the 189 legislators to get their degrees verified before the deadline.
“We need true representation, otherwise the nation will not accept the elections,” the chief justice observed. A member should enter parliament with all the respect he commands.
ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan and HEC Chairman Dr Javed Leghari expressed the points of view of their organisations.
“We are conscious of the fact that the legislators would lose the status to be parliamentarians or members of the provincial assemblies if the Supreme Court takes any step,” the court said in its order. They would lose their status not from the date when the assemblies were dissolved after completing their five-year term but from the date whey they were notified by the ECP as successful members, it said. “Once a person files nomination papers declaring that he fulfils the criteria of articles 62 and 63 of the constitution he owes a duty to satisfy that whatever information provided by him is correct, otherwise the ECP has the authority to declare him disqualified even if he resigns before the respective assembly completes its tenure,” the order said.
In case of misrepresentation later discovered, the ECP should proceed against the individual under the law for not following article 62 of the constitution that spelt out qualification of lawmakers, the chief justice said, adding that a legislator could not plead that litigation or prosecution against him was pending in a court.
Referring to a separate list of 54 legislators holding fake degrees, the court asked the ECP to proceed against them in accordance with the law since they themselves had earned disqualification by mis-declaring their qualifications in the nomination papers.
OVERSEAS PAKISTANIS: The National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) won praise from Attorney General Irfan Qadir as well as the Supreme Court for developing in 48 hours a software which will ensure voting rights to Pakistanis living abroad.
Nadra Chairman Tariq Malik demonstrated the software employing biometric system to enable overseas Pakistanis to caste vote. It will be deployed in different Pakistani missions after approval by the ECP.
Mr Malik said the software would enable an expatriate to caste his vote electronically and the paper trail would help the ECP to reconcile the vote polled. The system can also identify illegal immigrants if machine readable passport is used.
He said the software had been developed without any cost, but $1.5 million would be needed for necessary equipment and logistic support.
The attorney general informed the court that the Foreign Office had assured complete cooperation in deploying the software in different embassies.
Director Elections Sher Afgan assured the court that the ECP would approve the software. He said the commission’s IT experts would examine the software minutely because only the other day the ECP had encountered a cyber attack on its website.
Meanwhile, a proposal by Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim stated that the ECP would limit polling stations to a maximum of 10 only in those countries where the maximum number of Pakistanis reside like two polling stations each in Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK and one each in the UAE, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain. Ten presiding officers and an equal number of assistant presiding officers will be sent to these countries.
The court postponed the proceedings for 10 days and asked the ECP and Nadra to evolve a common strategy to make the programme viable.