LAHORE: Hearing multiple petitions challenging the Elections Act, 2017, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah said on Friday that voters had the right to elect a defaulter or a disqualified person.
“The verdict of voters is always supreme in any democratic system,” the chief justice said when a petitioner’s counsel questioned a section in the election law that paved the way for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to head his own faction of the Pakistan Muslim League despite his disqualification by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case.
Justice Shah observed that the Constitution empowered citizens to vote for a person of their own choice whether a defaulter or a disqualified person.
The Pakistan Awami Tehreek and others had filed the petitions requesting the high court to strike down sections 203 and 232 of Elections Act, 2017 for being repugnant to the Constitution and to restrain the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) from issuing a notification of Nawaz Sharif as head of the PML-N.
The petitioner’s counsel Ishtiaq Ahmad Chaudhry argued that these sections in the law were based on mala fide intention and to benefit a disqualified person. He insisted that the court had the power to put the amendments to judicial review and strike down the same.
The chief justice said Article 17 of the Constitution gave right to every citizen to form associations or unions subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by the law in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of the country. It was written nowhere in the Constitution or the election law that a defaulter or disqualified person could not form a political party, he added.
But the counsel argued that it looked strange and beyond ethical values that a person disqualified by the top court for corruption continued to head his political party.
Rejecting the argument, Justice Shah said it might be unethical but courts had to see whether or not an act was against the law and the Constitution. “Don’t force courts to decide cases on moral grounds instead of legal,” he added.
Sticking to his stance, Advocate Chaudhry said such acts of parliament should be passed through a filter of courts. Otherwise, he added, any terrorist or criminal would establish a political party.
At this, the chief justice advised the lawyer to take such issues to parliament and avoid dragging courts into it in the name of moral values. “Approaching courts on each issue is not a solution,” Justice Shah observed.
Deputy Attorney General Nasar Mirza, representing the federal government, requested the court to put off the matter because identical petitions were pending before the Supreme Court. The petitioners’ lawyers sought more time to prepare arguments on legal grounds. The chief justice adjourned the hearing until Nov 14 and asked the lawyers to also look into the election laws of other countries.
The petitioners had questioned the period of disqualification fixed as maximum of five years under section 232 of the Elections Act.
Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2017