The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday expressed strong displeasure over federal Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda's absence from proceedings in a dual nationality case and imposed a fine of Rs50,000 on him for "repeatedly asking for postponements".
The fine was imposed after Vawda's lawyer, Mohammad bin Mohsin, failed to appear in front of the ECP during the hearing of a petition seeking the minister's disqualification from the National Assembly since he was a dual nationality holder at the time of being elected.
During the hearing, which was presided over by a five-member commission headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, Mohsin's associate, Hasnain Ali Chohan, submitted an application for postponement of the proceedings.
"The lawyer (Mohammad bin Mohsin) is in Lahore because of a case in the Lahore High Court," he informed the commission at which one of the members, Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi, observed that the "commission's proceedings are not linked to the proceedings of any court".
"Bring the power of attorney. We will announce the decision after recording the statement," he added.
The chief election commissioner too rebuked the associate, saying "you were given a last chance to submit your reply during the last hearing as well".
"[You] have been given the opportunity to submit your reply several times."
Another member, Irshad Qaiser, questioned how the associate could oversee the case without having the power of attorney.
Thereafter, the ECP stopped the lawyer from arguing the case and imposed the fine on Vawda.
The petitioner, Qadir Khan Mandokhel, said the Supreme Court had previously disqualified Haroon Akhtar and Saeeda Abbasi from their Senate membership after they were proven to be holding American citizenship.
"Faisal Vawda too hid [his] American citizenship in his nomination papers," he added.
ECP chief Raja observed that Vawda was afforded the opportunity to give clarification on his citizenship during the last hearing. "It was accepted in the Election Commission that [he had] American citizenship."
He also rejected further requests for adjournments and said that the commission was "considering taking help from investigation agencies for cooperation from Vawda".
The commission set Feb 24 as the next date of hearing, directing Vawda to "personally" appear in the ECP on that date.
In November last year, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had given a month to the newly engaged lawyer for Vawda to prepare arguments about a petition seeking the latter’s disqualification over dual nationality.
IHC Justice Aamer Farooq, however, had made it clear that this would be the last opportunity for Vawda to deny the allegations levelled against him in the petition.
According to the petition, Vawda concealed his dual nationality at the time of filing of his nomination papers and falsely declared on oath before the ECP that "he didn’t have any foreign nationality".
It said that the PTI minister had submitted his nomination papers on the last date which were cleared on June 18, adding that Vawda applied for renunciation of his US nationality in the US Consulate, Karachi, on June 22 and the latter issued him the certificate on June 25.
Citing relevant judgements of the superior courts, the petition said that since Vawda was a dual national at the time of filing of his nomination papers, he concealed his US nationality and submitted a false affidavit regarding his citizenship and, therefore, he might be disqualified to hold the National Assembly’s seat and the office of the federal minister.