The Supreme Court wondered on Wednesday whether a person ineligible to become a member of the National Assembly could be chosen to head a political party.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar was hearing a set of petitions challenging the Elections Act 2017, filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the Pakistan Peoples Party and 10 others.
"Can a thief or member of a drug mafia [also] become the head of a party?" the bench asked, as it deliberated a number of points regarding the eligibility of a person to hold a party's top office.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan wondered how a person disqualified by the court over not being sadiq (truthful) and ameen (righteous) and who could not be elected as a member of parliament become a party's head.
But Advocate Salman Akram Raja, who was representing the PML-N, argued that while a person disqualified under Article 62(1)(f) could not be elected to the parliament, the Constitution of the country imposes no bar on such a person to lead a party.
"Do all the basic rights of a disqualified person as a human end with a disqualification?" Raja asked. He asked whether such a person also loses the right to organise and the right to freedom of expression.
"All the rights of such a person remain intact but they cannot become the head [of a party]," remarked Justice Ahsan, to which Raja said that members of a political party could not be prohibited from choosing a party leader of their choice under Articles 17 and 19 of the Constitution.
The chief justice wondered what would become of the tickets distributed for the upcoming Senate elections if the Elections Act was nullified by the court for being in violation of the Constitution.
The court then asked a representative of the Election Commission of Pakistan to inform the bench who within the PML-N, PPP and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had distributed the tickets for the March 3 Senate elections.
The CJP observed during the hearing that the head of a political party plays a crucial role in parliamentary politics and governmental affairs, while Justice Ahsan remarked that a political party virtually "revolves around the party head".
"It is not necessary for the party head to be an MNA, but he controls the members of parliament," the judge observed.
The hearing was subsequently adjourned until Thursday.
The Election Reforms Act, which removed the bar on anyone deemed ineligible to hold public office from holding a position in a political party, paved the way for disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif to be re-elected as head of the PML-N.