ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday observed that parliament was the only institution empowered to pass legislation and it did not require consultation with any institution to perform its constitutional obligation.

IHC Justice Athar Minallah, while hearing petitions filed by Awami Muslim League (AML) chairman Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and others seeking inclusion of certain provisions in the Election Reforms Act (ERA) 2017, observed that parliament was supreme and empowered to legislate. A court cannot take away parliament’s powers to legislate, nor can it direct parliament to consult the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) before passing legislation.

The petitioners had requested the court to direct the legislature to incorporate sections that would make it mandatory for aspiring election candidates to provide detailed information about their financial resources, expenses on election campaign, dual nationality, family details, and details about pending criminal cases and loans from financial institutions.

The IHC bench reserved its judgement on this matter and issued directions to relevant parties to submit their written replies by April 23.

During the course of the hearing, the petitioners told the court that parliament had prepared the draft law for ERA without consulting the ECP. They claimed that they had the fundamental right to have access to information about election candidates so that voters could make well-informed decisions. However, they added, it was ironic that these declarations had been removed from election forms, under the law governing the upcoming election. The petitioners claimed that they were looking to protect the voters, the democratic set-up and the fundamental rights of Pakistani citizens.

The ERA 2017 was promulgated on October 2, 2017 following the president’s assent. However, the nomination forms created under the law have omitted or modified several declarations and entries that were present in the previous nomination forms.

The declarations removed from the forms pertaint to: outstanding loans from banks, default of payment of government dues or utility charges, list naming spouse(s) and dependents, pending criminal cases, educational qualification, present occupation, national tax number, income tax paid during the last three years (along with total income and sources of income), foreign trips taken during the last three years, agricultural income tax paid along with land holding and agriculture income, important contribution made by the candidate for benefit of his constituency if elected previously, sum paid to the political party that awarded the candidate a ticket, net assets this year and previous year and difference between the two years, foreign passport details, and declaration on oath that the candidate is a Pakistani citizen and does not hold nationality of any other country.

It also did not carry the declaration to abide by the code of conduct issued by the ECP, the petitioners said, requesting the court to come to the rescue of Pakistani voters and protect their rights under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution (freedom of expression and access to information).

It was imperative that the financial standing of a candidate be disclosed to the voter as well to the ECP, the petitioners argued.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2018

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