The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Thursday extended the bar on the oath-taking of the beneficiaries allotted National Assembly reserved seats until March 13.

The order was issued on a petition filed by the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) — which was joined by PTI-backed independents who won the elections sans their electoral symbol — challenging the Election Commission of Pakistan’s decision to reject the party allocation of reserved women and minority seats.

In a 4-1 verdict earlier this week, the electoral watchdog ruled that the SIC was 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 commission had also decided to distribute the seats among other parliamentary parties, with the PML-N and the PPP becoming major beneficiaries. Meanwhile, the verdict was rejected by the PTI as unconstitutional and the party vowed to challenge it.

During a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, a two-member bench of the PHC had barred the oath-taking of the MNAs allotted the reserved seats. It issued a pre-admission to the ECP and all the respondents in the case, listing six questions that needed to be determined.

The court further referred the matter to the PHC chief justice for the constitution of a larger bench to “adjudicate upon the intricate constitutional questions involved in the matter”.

Today, a five-member larger bench led by Justice Ishtiaq Ibrahim took up the petition. Justices Ijaz Anwar, S.M. Attique Shah, Shakeel Ahmed and Syed Arshad Ali were also part of the bench.

The petitioners’ counsels — including PTI lawyer Qazi Anwar — and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Additional Attorney General Sanaullah as well as the lawyers of other respondents appeared before the court.

However, due to Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan failing to appear today, the stay order issued yesterday was extended until March 13.

The hearing

At the outset of the hearing, AAG Sanaullah informed the court that AGP Awan was occupied with cases in the Supreme Court and sought more time.

Justice Ibrahim recalled that the court had summoned the AGP, at which Anwar said that a new AGP would be appointed today, who would then appear before the PHC.

Here, PPP counsel Advocate Qazi Jawwad said that the presidential elections were scheduled for March 9 (Saturday).

PTI’s Babar Awan, who was also representing the petitioner, then noted: “The presidential election is taking place and the party with 93 seats has not been allotted reserved seats.

“[A party] who has a single assembly member in a province has been allotted two reserved seats,” he stated, adding that the ECP “gifted” reserved seats to other parties.

AAG Jawwad then argued that the PHC could only issue a verdict once the case proceedings were complete. He urged that the court modify the interim order, adding that “women who have been elected also have a right”.

Here, Justice Ibrahim ordered that AGP Awan appear before the court in the next hearing, extending the stay order on the swearing-in of the beneficiaries of reserved seats till March 13, when the hearing will be resumed.

Awan calls for judicial commission on Form-45s

Awan demanded that a judicial commission be formed to investigate the alleged discrepancies in the Forms-45 issued by the ECP.

 PTI leaders Babar Awan and Azam Swati speak outside the PHC. — DawnNewsTV
PTI leaders Babar Awan and Azam Swati speak outside the PHC. — DawnNewsTV

Speaking to the media outside the PHC, he asserted that the party would continue its “legal battle” to gain reserved seats in the assemblies.

Insisting that there were “only two ways” for the country to get out of the current crises, he said, “The first path is that all false cases and imaginary FIRs against Imran Khan be quashed.”

Stating that the “entire country has given Imran Khan the mandate”, the PTI leader said the mandate could not be “snatched by stealing it in any way”.

“When the PHC returned the bat symbol [to the PTI], who told the ECP to challenge it?” Awan asked.

Speaking alongside him, Senator Azam Swati appreciated the PHC and said “thieves have been imposed on the country”. Advocate Anwar called for a probe on those “who came into the offices of returning officers on the night” of the elections.

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