PESHAWAR / LAHORE: A larger bench of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Thursday once again deferred the oath-taking of nine women lawmakers , who had been awarded the reserved seats claimed by the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC).

The high court’s decision, extending the restraining order until March 13, was issued on a petition filed by the SIC, which was joined by PTI-backed independents who won the Feb 8 elections without a unified electoral symbol.

In its petition, the SIC challenged the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision to deny the party reserved seats for women and non-Muslims in the National and provincial assemblies.

The five-judge PHC bench was approached for an adjournment by the deputy attorney general, Sanaullah Khan, citing the attorney general for Pakistan’s engagements at the Supreme Court.

The judges granted the adjournment, pushing the case’s hearing to mid-March, prolonging the interim relief granted to the petitioner earlier this month.

PHC bench defers oath-taking of MPAs until 13th

The bench also reissued notices to the absent respondents through the ECP, including PML-N, MQM-Pakistan, Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP), and some MNAs-elect, who were notified as returned candidates by the Election Commission on reserved seats.

On Wednesday, a two-member bench referred the petition to the PHC’s chief justice and called upon him to form a larger bench to deliberate on the “intricate” constitutional questions involved in the matter.

Moreover, on the petitioner’s plea seeking an interim relief, the bench had issued notice to the ECP for Thursday and directed that until then, the National Assembly speaker should not administer oath to the respondents, including eight MNAs-elect from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and one from Punjab.

The petition was filed by the SIC through its chairman, Sahibzada Muhammad Hamid Raza, seeking directives of the court for the ECP to allocate reserved seats to the council based on their strength in the National and provincial assemblies.

Hearing

During the hearing on Thursday, Adv­ocate Qazi Jawad Ehsanullah Qureshi, representing PPP’s MNA-elect Asma Ala­­mgir, requested that the interim relief granted in favour of the petitioner be modified.

He requested that the MNAs-elect be allowed to take the oath of office as the presidential election was scheduled to be held on March 9.

However, senior lawyers Babar Awan, Qazi Muhammad Anwar, Rehmat Ali Shah and Ali Zaman, who appeared for the petitioner, requested the continuation of the interim relief.

Mr Awan argued that the ECP had “gifted” SIC’s reserved seats to other parties despite the petitioner’s having several MNAs and MPAs in the National and provincial assemblies.

On the other hand, a party with a single assembly member in a province had been allotted two reserved seats, which was an injustice to the petitioner, he said.

SIC approaches LHC

On Thursday, the SIC also approached the Lahore High Court against the ECP’s decision to deprive the party of its reserved seats.

In a writ petition, the SIC chairman also arrayed PPP, PML-N, MQM-P, IPP, and their members notified by the ECP on seats reserved for women and minorities.

The petition, filed through Advocate Ishtiaq A. Khan, contended that the ECP misconstrued and misapplied the provisions of Articles 51 and 106 of the Constitution as well as Section 104 of the Elections Act, 2017.

It said that according to the Constitution, the entire scheme of the reserved seats did not envisage the allocation of any seat to a political party over and above its due share proportionate to the number of seats it wins, including the independents having joined that party within three days of the notification.

It said the entire emphasis of the ECP was on the election schedule and date fixed for submitting the priority list for reserved seats.

The petition argued that the SIC was a duly enlisted political party and had been allocated an electoral symbol. It stated that PTI-backed independent candidates joined the SIC and became its members. Therefore, the petition said the SIC was entitled to reserved seats equal to the number of independent candidates who joined it.

The petitioner asked the court to set aside the ECP’s decision and order it to allocate reserved seats to the SIC based on its strength in the National Assembly from Punjab and the provincial assembly.

The registrar’s office has fixed the hearing for Friday (today) as an objection case before Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2024

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