KP Assembly speaker files review petition against PHC verdict ordering oath-taking of reserved seat MPAs

Published April 1, 2024
KP Assembly Speaker Babar Saleem Swati speaks outside the Peshawar High Court on Monday. — Screengrab from video provided by author
KP Assembly Speaker Babar Saleem Swati speaks outside the Peshawar High Court on Monday. — Screengrab from video provided by author

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly Speaker Babar Saleem Swati on Monday filed a review petition against the Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) order wherein it directed him to administer oaths to opposition MPAs elected to reserved seats.

The opposition and provincial government are at odds over the assembly session for the oath-taking of MPAs elected on reserved seats for women and minorities.

Last month, a controversy had emerged as KP Governor Haji Ghulam Ali had summoned the assembly session for March 22, but the provincial government declared the move against the rules as well as the Constitution, and refused to implement it.

The opposition members later demonstrated against the government, accusing it of trying to block the right of women and non-Muslim MPAs to participate in the Senate polls slated for next month.

On March 25, more than a dozen candidates of the province’s opposition, who were notified by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on reserved seats, urged the PHC to ensure they are administered the oaths before the Senate elections scheduled for April 2 (Tuesday). Among the petitioners were six women MPAs-elect of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and eight returned candidates of the PML-N and PPP.

On March 27, the PHC had ordered Swati to administer the oaths to the MPAs elected on reserved seats for women and non-Muslims, and facilitate them to cast votes in the Senate elections.

A PHC division bench consisting of Justice Syed Mohammad Attique Shah and Justice Shakeel Ahmad accepted three almost identical petitions filed by around 20 opposition MPAs elected on reserved seats, and direc­ted the speaker to include the matter as agenda item No. 1 of the first business day of the session requisitioned for the upcoming Senate elections.

The next day, the ECP had hinted at postponing Senate elections if the KP assembly speaker kept on delaying the oath-taking. On Saturday, the assembly secretariat said it had not received any government orders to call a sitting of the house for the swearing-in of the lawmakers.

It said that soon after receiving the court’s orders, the speaker asked the secretariat about the April 2 session but was informed that the government had yet not issued any directions to call that sitting. The secretariat quoted Swati as directing its legal adviser to immediately update the PHC about the matter.

The PPP has said the opposition parties in KP would spring a “surprise” in the upcoming Senate elections.

Today, Swati filed a review petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com*, against the PHC’s March 27 verdict, which ordered him to swear in the elected lawmakers.

Filed through Advocate Ali Azim Afridi, the plea named the ECP, the KP government, the Senate and eight MPAs-elect as respondents in the case. It requested the PHC that its decision be reviewed and to give “order(s) dismissing the petition” of the opposition lawmakers.

In his review plea, Swati argued that the high court order did not “take hold of the factual position insofar session requisitioned”.

It stated that the “office of the speaker holds no information, as to summoning of or session requisitioned for upcoming Senate elections by the government, let alone inclusion of matter in question as Agenda Item No. 1 of the first business day”.

“It is [a] cardinal principle of law and justice that what cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly,” the petition contended.

Meanwhile, Swati reiterated that a session of the KP Assembly had not been summoned.

Speaking to reporters outside the PHC, Swati said that when he received the court order, he consulted his legal team and decided to “present the facts before the judiciary”.

“No session had been summoned from our side, which is why we cannot implement this order. This order could have been implemented when a session [of the assembly] had been summoned.

“If someone wants to say anything for point-scoring, they may do so,” he added.

“We, the followers of Imran Khan, believe in the rule of law. […] We highly respect the judiciary and the judges,” Swati said. “If we, who are trying for this (rule of law), will violate it, then how can we expect the rule of law to be established in this country?” the speaker asked.

Asked whether the Senate polls from the province would be held tomorrow or not, Swati replied that the ECP could provide an answer to that. He said that according to the legal team, the KP governor did not have the authority to summon a session.

“We are ready to summon an [assembly session round the clock, “ the speaker said, adding he would do so if ordered by the court.

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