LAHORE: A Lahore High Court full bench with a 2-1 majority decision dismissed on Wednesday three identical petitions challenging candidature of PML-N candidate Kulsoom Nawaz for NA-120 by-election.

The full bench headed by Justice Aminuddin Khan with Justice Ibadur Rehman Lodhi and Justice Shahid Jamil Khan its members dismissed the petitions through a short order that reads as “For the reasons to be recorded separately, these petitions stand dismissed on the basis of majority view.”

Justice Lodhi dissented from the majority view.

Pakistan Peoples Party candidate Faisal Mir, Advocate Ishtiaq Ahmad Chaudhry of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and Nabeel Shahzad of the Milli Muslim League (MML) had filed the petitions invoking the writ jurisdiction of the high court. They challenged the decisions of the returning officer and an election tribunal whereby nomination papers of Kulsoom Nawaz were accepted.

Interestingly Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the main political opponent of the PML-N, opted not to assail the eligibility of Ms Nawaz before the court. However, PTI candidate Dr Yasmin Rashid had raised objections to the nomination papers of Ms Nawaz before the returning officer and the election tribunal.

At the outset of the hearing, Returning Officer Muhammad Shahid appeared before the bench and stated he heard and rejected the objections against the nomination papers of Kulsoom Nawaz by holding a summary trial.

Lawyers from the petitioners’ side mainly argued that the returning officer was bound under the law to provide reasons for dismissing the objections, which he did not do. They said neither the RO nor the election tribunal looked into the details of the objections regarding concealment of assets and misinformation regarding tax returns by the PML-N candidate.

They said the respondent candidate had not submitted statements of assets and liability with her nomination papers.

One of the petitioners’ counsel Azhar Siddique raised an objection when the bench asked a deputy attorney general (DAG) to advance arguments on behalf of the federal government. He said the government was not made party in the petitions. However, the bench noted that the State had been listed as a respondent in the petition moved by Faisal Mir of the PPP.

At this, Mir’s counsel Chaudhry Zafar Husain sought court’s permission to delete the State from the list of respondents. The bench declined the permission and asked the federal government to present his view on the petitions.

Opposing the petitions, DAG Mirza Nasar Ahmad said the petitions were not maintainable before the high court. Citing a Supreme Court’s judgment, he said the court could not interfere in the election affairs unless no remedy was available to the parties before the polls. He said the petitioners in the instant case had already availed the remedies of the returning officer and the election tribunal. He said such petitions could be filed against disenfranchising of a candidate, however, the case in hand was against acceptance of nomination papers not rejection.

At one point, the law officer said people should be allowed to decide the fate of a candidate through vote.

However, Justice Lodhi observed it would make redundant the whole process of scrutiny of a candidate before the returning officer if the argument of the government was accepted.

Appearing on behalf of Ms Nawaz, Advocate Amjad Pervez argued that the Representation of Peoples Act 1976 did not define the word “scrutiny” and the manner of the scrutiny. He said the RO dismissed the objections after affording adequate opportunity of hearing to all parties. He said the RO was required to give reasons in case of rejection of nomination papers. He said the petitioners failed to furnish any material evidence before the RO to establish their objections. The onus to prove allegations was on the objectors, he added.

After hearing the arguments, the bench reserved verdict on the petitions and assembled again after half an hour to announce the dismissal decision.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2017