ISLAMABAD: Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza has convened an emergency meeting of the ECP on Saturday (today) to determine the course of action following the judgements of two high courts that put a question mark on the fate of the coming general elections.

Informed sources told Dawn that a day before the commencement of the process of filing nomination papers, the Lahore High Court had set aside the new nomination forms, approved by parliament through the Elections Act 2017, and ordered their improvement, while the Balochistan High Court rejected the delimitation of Quetta and asked the Election Commission of Pakistan to carry out the process afresh.

An ECP official said the meeting would discuss the implications of the judgements pronounced a day after the announcement of the now in doldrums election schedule and see how to proceed. He said returning officers had been directed not to receive nomination papers on Saturday.

Commission tells returning officers not to receive nomination papers today

According to the official, the LHC termed the details of candidates in the new nomination forms insufficient and asked the commission to improve them, recognising that the conduct of elections and preparation of the forms were the ECP’s exclusive jurisdiction.

He said important decisions would be taken by the ECP at the meeting, adding that the LHC decision was an endorsement of the commission’s viewpoint that it was for the ECP to make nomination forms. He ruled out the possibility of a long delay in the printing of improved nomination forms and said it would be uploaded on the ECP’s website in downloadable version.

In May last year, a proposal to amend the nomination forms for electoral candidates had also put the ECP at odds with parliament. The ECP had expressed its reservations after a sub-committee of the parliamentary panel on electoral reforms approved a proposal for similar nomination papers for candidates of the Senate and national and provincial assemblies.

A senior ECP official recalled that the commission at that time had opposed the decision on the grounds that the matter pertaining to nomination papers was a part of the rules which were to be framed by the commission, and not parliament. He said the Supreme Court had in March 2013 declared the then updated nomination forms constitutional and annou­nced that the 2013 general elections would be held on the basis of those forms.

Then chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had observed that it was the right of the voters to know certain details about the person representing them.

The official said the apex court had rejected the law ministry’s argument that the ECP could not amend the nomination forms on its own, adding that the judgement still held the field.

He pointed out that under Article 222 of the Constitution, “Subject to the Constitution, [Majlis-i-Shura (parliament)] may by law, provide for — allocation of seats in the National Assembly...but no such law shall have the effect of taking away or abridging any of the powers of the Commis­sioner or an election commissioner under this part”.

He said that under Article 218 (3) of the Constitution, it was a duty of the ECP to organise elections and to make arrangements to ensure that the polls were conducted honestly in accordance with the law, and to see that corrupt practices were guarded against.

He said the Balochistan High Court’s decision and its timing were disturbing because carrying out delimitation afresh would require following all stages and their timeline, which would make the holding of timely polls impossible. He hinted that the ECP might approach the Supreme Court to get the BHC judgement reversed.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2018