The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Monday rejected a petition filed by the Sunni Ittehad Council — the new face of the PTI — seeking the allocation of reserved seats.

The 4-1 majority verdict, which was reserved last week, was issued by a five-member bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja. ECP member Babar Hassan Bharwana dissented from the judgment in an additional note.

The SIC was joined by PTI-backed lawmakers after winning elections sans their poll symbol, and the council had written to the ECP seeking allocation of reserved seats in the national as well as three provincial assemblies, excluding Balochistan.

The ECP, however, did not consider the plea till applications piled up opposing the allocation of SIC’s quota on the grounds that it was not a parliamentary party and had not submitted a priority list of candidates for the reserved seats.

The applications against the allocation of reserved seats to SIC were heard for two days before SIC’s applications were clubbed with the lately filed but sooner heard petitions opposing its quota, and notices were issued to some other parliamentary parties.

After hearing arguments from all sides, the commission had reserved its verdict last week, a day before the maiden session of the National Assembly, allowing the controversy to simmer. Subsequently, the ECP caught flak for delaying the decision as it paved the way for an incomplete assembly to meet.

In the order issued today, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the electoral watchdog said it had given a deadline of Dec 22 for the submission of nomination papers by political parties for reserved seats. It said the deadline was later extended till Dec 24.

“The records revealed that the SIC did not submit priority list for the reserved seats for women and non-Muslims,” it noted, highlighting that the party requested the commission for the allocation of seats via four letters after PTI-backed independents joined it.

The ECP further stated that the SIC did not contest elections for any seat in the national or provincial assemblies and even the party chairman, Sahibzada Hamid Raza, contested the polls as an independent candidate.

“In Article 51 of the Constitution it is clear that political parties that have representation in the National Assembly by way of winning seats would be eligible for the allocation of reserved seats for women and non-Muslims through proportional representation system,” the commission said.

It also cited Section 104 of the Elections Act, 2017 which says: “For the purpose of election to seats reserved for women and non-Muslims in an Assembly, the political parties contesting election for such seats shall, within the period fixed by the Commission for submission of nomination papers, file separate lists of their candidates in order of priority for seats reserved for women and non-Muslims with the Commission or, as it may direct, with the Provincial Election Commissioner or other authorized officer of the Commission, who shall forthwith cause such lists to be published for information of the public.”

“Therefore, the commission is of the view that in light of clear provisions of Article 51(6) of the Constitution read with Section 104 of the Elections Act, 2017 […] SIC is not entitled to claim quota for reserved seats due to having non curable legal defects and violation of a mandatory provision of submission of party list for reserved seats which is the requirement of law,” the ECP order said.

It rejected the SIC’s petition and accepted pleas against the allocation of reserved seats to the council.

“The seats in the National Assembly shall not remain vacant and will be allotted by proportional representation process of political parties on the basis of seats won by political parties,” the order said and directed the office to calculate the quota of reserved seats accordingly.

Dissent note

Meanwhile, in his dissent note, ECP member Babar Hassan Bharwana said that he “partially” agreed with the other members of the bench that reserved seats cannot be allotted to the SIC as the party had failed to submit priority lists in time.

“However, I have dissenting views with regard to the allocation of seats by way of proportional representation to the other political parties.

“In my opinion, Article 51(6-d) and Article 106(3-c) of the Constitution clearly state that reserved seats will be allocated to the political parties on the basis of total number of general seats secured by each political party from the province concerned in the National Assembly or such reserved seats secured by each political party in the Provincial Assembly,” he said.

Bharwana added that the seats should therefore remain vacant till the time any such amendment in Article 51 or 106 of the Constitution was made by the Parliament.

PTI to challenge verdict

In a speech in the Senate after the verdict was released, PTI’s Barrister Ali Zafar said his party would challenge the ECP order.

He termed the election commission’s judgment “the last dagger in the heart of democracy”.

“If our share is being given to other parties then this is a constitutional mistake that the ECP has committed,” Zafar stressed, highlighting that today’s verdict had proven that the electoral watchdog failed to fulfil its responsibility of holding free and fair elections.

He subsequently demanded the immediate resignation of the ECP and sought proceedings against the Chief Election Commissioner under Article 6 (treason) of the Constitution. Zafar added that the PTI had prepared a resolution in this regard which would be presented shortly.

He further contended that the upcoming presidential and Senate elections could not be conducted in an “incomplete house”. The PTI leader noted that the president, senators, speakers and deputy speakers, prime ministers and chief ministers were elected by assemblies.

“Until the national and provincial assemblies are complete, elections can’t be held for these constitutional positions. This was a clear point that we had presented to the election commission,” Zafar added.

Separately, in a post on social media platform X, the PTI said the electoral watchdog “continues to disrespect the public mandate” and called today’s verdict another step “to completely destroy democracy and electoral process in Pakistan”.

“Biased ECP has clearly and repeatedly violated their own rules repeatedly!” the party said in a post on X.

78 reserved seats

The ECP had so far kept on hold the allocation of 78 out of the total 226 reserved seats for women in the national and provincial assemblies — all of which were to go to SIC, under the formula.

Out of the total 60 reserved seats for women in the NA, the ECP allocated 40 seats to different political parties. These include 20 of the total 32 for Punjab, two out of 10 for KP, all 14 from Sindh and all four from Balochistan. Likewise, it has allocated seven out of 10 seats reserved for minorities in the NA.

Of the total 66 reserved seats for women in the Punjab Assembly, it had allocated 42 seats and five out of eight reserved for minorities. In the Sindh Assembly, it had allocated 27 of the total 29 seats reserved for women and eight out of nine reserved for minorities.

It allocated five out of total 26 reserved seats for women in the KP assembly and one out of four reserved for minorities.

All the 11 reserved seats for women and three for minorities in the Balochistan Assembly have already been allocated.

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