KARACHI: 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 largely criticised by lawyers and activists. However, some experts also backed the ECP’s rationale.

Speaking to Dawn.com, 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.

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.

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.

However, former attorney general Ashtar Ausaf Ali backed the ECP’s decision to reject the allocation of reserved seats to the Sunni Ittehad Council.

Speaking to Geo News, he said it was important to understand the matter and what it means according to the law and Constitution.

“ECP is a constitutional institution that does not only have the power and jurisdiction but also the responsibility to conduct free and fair elections,” Ali said. “Political parties submit tentative lists of candidates. After the result, parties are allotted reserved seats.”

He added that in the current scenario, candidates didn’t contest from PTI but as independents. “They went to a political party before SIC but received criticism over it after which they joined this one,” he added.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2024

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