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The mechanism for filling seats reserved for non-Muslims and women in the national and provincial assemblies seems to be faulty as the aspirants for these seats are left at the mercy of leadership of political parties, as they can’t contest in independent capacity.

Several of the aspiring candidates are openly coming out and criticising their respective party leaders for awarding tickets on the basis of favoritism for these seats, which were introduced before the 2002 general elections.

The priority lists of candidates submitted by the respective parties with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) have been drawing criticism mostly from own party activists who believe that these lists have not been prepared on merit.

A major flaw in mechanism for filling these reserved seats is that no independent candidate can contest on them as these seats are filled on the basis of proportional representation of the seats attained by a political party in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies.

A vast majority of nomination papers were rejected by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial election commissioner, who is the returning officer for reserved seats in the province, mostly on the ground that the names of those contenders have not been mentioned in the priority lists of political parties.

Around 290 nomination papers of total 423 were turned down mostly on that ground. The returning officer had accepted nomination papers of 133 candidates for contesting polls for these seats.

The provincial election commissioner is the returning officer for three categories of reserved seats: nine seats reserved for women in the National Assembly from KP; 22 seats reserved for women in the KP Assembly; and three seats reserved for non-Muslims in the KP Assembly. The returning officer has accepted nomination papers of 35 candidates for the seats reserved for women in NA; 78 papers were accepted for seats reserved for women in KP Assembly; and, 20 papers were accepted for non-Muslim seats.

According to Article 51 (6) (d) of the Constitution of Pakistan, members to the seats reserved for women in the National Assembly, which are allocated to a province, shall be elected through proportional representation system of political parties’ lists of candidates on the basis of total number of general seats secured by each political party from the province concerned in the National Assembly. Same condition applies to filling seats reserved for women and non-Muslims in the KP Assembly.

As such, under this system of reserved seats the women and non-Muslims are dependent on political parties. One of the aspirants, whose papers were rejected for the seats reserved for non-Muslims, said that this was a flawed system as it was not necessary for a person placed on top of a priority list that he or she should have worked in the community.

He pointed out that none of the major political parties had placed the name of any member of the Christian community at serial No 1 of their priority lists in KP though Christians are the second largest religious minority in KP after Ahmadi community, which meant that there was no likelihood of election of a Christian member on any of the three reserved seats for non- Muslims.

He said that under the previous system reserved seats for non-Muslims were filled through direct polls on basis of separate electorate, therefore, those persons were preferred who had worked in their respective communities.

One thing is now clear that a political party might not be popular among non-Muslims, but it too can win a reserved seat in the existing system.

Same is the case with the seats reserved for women. Several candidates of different political parties were seen complaining at the office of provincial election commissioner in Peshawar after the priority lists were submitted by their respective political parties. The existing system was introduced by retired General Pervez Musharraf prior to the 2002 general elections when emergency was imposed in the country.

Drastic changes were made in the Constitution through the Legal Framework Order (LFO) 2002. By amending Article 51, 60 seats were reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslims in the National Assembly.

These seats have to be filled through mechanism of indirect elections of proportional representation on the basis of priority lists of candidates to be submitted by the political parties.

Similarly, Article 106 was amended and seats were reserved for women and non-Muslims in the provincial assemblies. These seats include 66 for women in Punjab Assembly, 29 in Sindh Assembly, 22 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 11 in Balochistan. Seats reserved for non-Muslims in provincial assemblies are: nine in Sindh, eight in Punjab, and three each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

Furthermore, amendments were made in the Representation of Peoples Act 1976. Section 47A was incorporated in the said law and it was made binding on the political parties to file separate lists of candidates in order of priority for seats reserved for women and non-Muslims with the ECP.

Subsequently, through the Elections Act, 2017, the Representation of Peoples Act was repealed. Section 18 of the Elections Act mentions that there shall be seats in the National Assembly allocated to each Province, Islamabad Capital Territory and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and seats reserved for women and non- Muslims as specified in Article 51 of the Constitution. It provides that there shall be seats in each provincial assembly consisting of general seats and seats reserved for women and non-Muslims, as specified in Article 106.

Some of the social activists believe that the philosophy behind these women reserved seats was to politically mainstream women, but the existing mechanism has resulted in exploitation of women as subjecting them to personal likes and dislikes of leaders of the parties. They believe that some mechanism should be evolved for direct elections on reserved seats for women and non-Muslims.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2018