Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja at the oath-taking ceremony of two new members of the Election Commission of Pakistan on Wednesday. — DawnNewsTV

‘Bereft of law’: Lawyers, activists lambaste ECP for refusing to allocate SIC reserved seats

Barrister Rida Hosain calls decision "entirely unconstitutional", Usama Khilji says "ECP has become a joke."
Published March 4, 2024

The Election Commission of Pakistan’s decision to reject a petition filed by the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) — the new home of PTI-backed independents — pertaining to the allocation of reserved seats was criticised by lawyers and activists.

In a 4-1 majority verdict, the electoral watchdog ruled that the SIC was not entitled to claim quota for women and minority 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”.

After they clinched a lion’s share in the February 8 general elections sans their poll symbol, PTI-backed lawmakers joined the SIC. The council had subsequently written to the ECP and filed a petition seeking the allocation of reserved seats in the national and provincial assemblies, excluding Balochistan.

The election commission had reserved its verdict on the SIC last week and finally issued the judgement today.

Here is what the experts had to say about the order.

‘Bereft of law, precedent or basic good sense’

Speaking to, Barrister Asad Rahim Khan termed the electoral watchdog’s decision “bereft of the law, precedent, or basic good sense”. He said the ECP maintained its position similar to previous rulings that disenfranchised the people of Pakistan.

“The logic depriving one party of reserved seats lasts for only as long as when the ECP, in the same order, divvies up the remaining seats in a free-for-all to the smaller parties under the guise of proportional representation,” the lawyer said.

‘Entirely unconstitutional’

Deploring the ECP decision, Barrister Rida Hosain said it was “entirely unconstitutional” for the electoral watchdog to distribute the SIC’s share of reserved seats among other parties.

“It is highly unfortunate that other political parties sought to lay claim on SIC’s share of reserved seats,” she added.

She said Article 51 of the Constitution clearly states that reserved seat members “are to be elected through a system of proportional representation, based on the number of general seats secured by a political party in the National Assembly”.

Barrister Rida said the reserved seats were a constitutional entitlement of a political party and were not transferable to other parties, noting that there was little force in ECP’s position “that only political parties which have representation by way of ‘winning seats’ are entitled to reserved seats”.

She highlighted that the Constitution stated that independent candidates who join a political party within three days of their names being published in the gazette “shall be included when calculating the reserved seats a party was entitled to”.

“The fact that PTI-backed independents joined the SIC after the elections cannot act as a hindrance,” the lawyer stated. “As regards delay, there is a decision of the Lahore High Court from 2018 where a one-day delay in submission of party lists for reserved seats has been condoned.”

“One of the reasons for this decision was that there is no express penalty in the law for non-submission of party lists for reserved seats,” Barrister Rida further said, adding that the decisions of the ECP “continue to undermine democracy”.

She said the present circumstances were a direct result of taking away PTI’s election symbol.

“After having already imposed one disproportionate penalty, the ECP has now through another absurd order denied SIC (which includes PTI-backed independents) their share of reserved seats,” Barrister Rida concluded.

‘Verdict expected but PTI also allowed this to happen’

Advocate Abdul Moiz Jaferii said the ECP deprived a party of its constitutional right based on “sideways glances at its laws and rules”.

“This much was expected,” he said. “However, the PTI also allowed this to happen by playing technicalities and trying to fit themselves into the SIC when in fact they should have stuck their ground and claimed reserved seats as a right of the PTI.

“Instead, they accepted the moniker of independent candidates that they were fitted with, which was not the case. These were all PTI candidates, deprived only of a unified symbol and not of their status as a party itself which is a constitutionally recognised privilege,” Jaferii added.

‘A cruel joke on the nation’

On the other hand, Barrister Mian Ali Ashfaq said he didn’t think ECP pronounced a proper decision of allotting seats to parties that “don’t even have proportionally that number of general seats”.

Former human rights minister Shireen Mazari said the ECP continued to violate people’s mandate and the Constitution.

“It is doling out reserved seats to those who have no right to them legally while those who have the right are being denied the same,” she said in a post on social media platform X.

“Usurper upon usurper — a cruel joke on the nation,” Mazari wrote

‘Gross violation’

Activist Usama Khilji termed the ECP’s decision a “gross violation of fundamental rights and democratic principles”. He said the law cannot supersede constitutional rights.

“More absurd to allot their reserved seats to other parties on proportional representation,” he said in a post on X. “ECP has become a joke”.

Blow to the democratic order

Commenting on the ECP decision, advocate Basil Nabi Malik said the legal reasoning behind “this order is predictable and expected”, highlighting that these kinds of challenges were expected for the PTI.

“However, in the larger scheme of things, this is a blow to the democratic order. Pakistan is a constitutional democracy, and nothing is a greater discredit to such a constitution than denying people due representation based on procedural hiccups and mishaps,” he concluded.