ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) dismissed on Tuesday a petition filed by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers challenging the appointment of Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as vice president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Hours after the announcement of the judgement reserved by the commission a day earlier, the government declared that it would challenge the decision in a court of law.

“For detailed reasons recorded separately, it is held that the office of vice president being non-functional and without power does not attract the implications of Article 62 and 63, read with Article 63-A of the Constitution,” read a short order issued by a three-member ECP bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza.

Government decides to challenge verdict in court

The ECP also held that Maryam Nawaz, currently under NAB custody, shall neither be offered nor accept the office of president or any other important functional office like secretary general of the party as long as the conviction in question prevailed.

Addressing a post-cabinet meeting press conference, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said the cabinet had decided to challenge the ECP verdict, adding that it was contrary to the judgements of the Supreme Court in the Zulfiqar Bhutta case (PLD 2018 SC 370) and the Benazir Bhutto case (PLD 1988 SC 416).

PTI’s Maleeka Bukhari, who was one of the petitioners, said in a tweet that the ECP judgement confirmed that Maryam Nawaz having been convicted could only hold a position in her party which is non-functional. “According to ECP, the post of Vice President in PML-N is non-functional. This means that Maryam Nawaz as Vice President of PML-N cannot hold any jalsa [public meeting] or liaise with any other political party or enter into any function with regard to her party,” she added.

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said the PTI had gone to the ECP with the petition for “cheap publicity”. “Maryam Nawaz does not require any position or designation to help the people of Pakistan,” she said, adding: “Maryam’s service for the restoration of the Constitution and law is not hidden from anyone [...] she stayed behind for five years and worked on health and education along with [former prime minister] Nawaz Sharif.”

Ms Aurangzeb said the current government did “small things” like the petition for which they had received a response from the election commission.

Talking to reporters, Maryam’s counsel Barrister Zafarullah said there was no such condition in the country’s law that restricted an individual from holding a party position, adding that she would remain vice president of the PML-N as the ECP had disposed of PTI’s petition.

As part of the party’s restructuring, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif had on May 3 appointed Maryam Nawaz as one of the vice presidents of the party, besides his son Hamza Shahbaz.

On May 9, PTI MNAs Maleeka Bukhari, Farrukh Habib, Kanwal Shauzab and Javeria Zafar had filed in the ECP a petition challenging the appointment of Maryam Nawaz on the grounds that a convict could not hold a party office under the law.

On July 6 last year, an accountability court had announced its verdict in the Avenfield properties reference, sentencing Maryam to seven years in prison for abetment after she was found “instrumental in concealment of the properties of her father” and one year for non-cooperation with the National Accountability Bureau. She was also disqualified from contesting polls.

In September last year, the Islamabad High Court had suspended the sentences of former premier Sharif, his daughter Maryam and son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar in the Avenfield corruption reference and ordered their release.

NAB had challenged the decision in January this year, but the apex court dismissed its plea and upheld the IHC verdict.

The PTI lawmakers in their petition had contended that the accountability court “declared the PML-N leader to be ineligible for public office”, adding that a party position was not in private capacity. They argued that political parties had an influence on the entire political system and claimed that in the void of a party president, Maryam Nawaz would use the elected president’s authority.

The PTI MNAs wondered how it was possible that members of the assembly fully abided by Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, but the “people who control them don’t”.

The ECP had reserved its judgement for the second time on Monday. The commission had first reserved it on Aug 1 and had set Aug 27 as the date for its pronouncement. But in an unusual move, the ECP had deferred the judgement, asking the counsel for both sides to assist it on whether or not the bar on a convict from holding office of the president of a political party also applied to the vice president, in the light of a recent Supreme Court verdict.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2019