The PTI on Monday sought to delay the election of the Senate chairman and deputy chairman, which are scheduled for tomorrow, until after polls were held on vacant seats from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Five PTI senators filed a plea in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) and also wrote a letter to the Senate secretary. The IHC heard the plea despite the objections of the registrar’s office and sought a response from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Elections for 30 vacant Senate seats were scheduled to be held on April 2. However, the ECP had delayed polls on 11 seats from KP following a controversy over the oath-taking of opp­osi­t­ion lawmakers on rese­rved seats.

However, polls still went ahead on 19 seats, which saw the ruling coalition clinching all. Following the election, the total strength house increased from 66 to 85, with 59 seats going to the ruling coalition, led by PML-N. The clean sweep also put the ruling alliance in a comfortable position to get any legislation passed from both houses of Parliament.

Late last night, Presi­dent Asif Ali Zardari summoned a fresh session of the Senate on April 9 (tomorrow).

A circular issued by the Senate Secretariat today said that the upper house of Parliament would meet tomorrow at 9am to swear in newly elected members and also to elect the chairman and deputy chairman.

It should be mentioned that earlier the president had appointed Ishaq Dar, who had won on a technocrat seat from Islamabad on April 2, as the presiding officer for the first session of the upper house of Parliament.

Later today, a statement from the PTI Core Committee said the party had decided to boycott the polls until the representation of KP senators was ensured.

IHC proceedings

In the plea filed in the IHC today, Zarqa Suharwardy Taimur, Falak Naz, Fawzia Arshad, Saifullah Sarwar Khan Niazi and Saifullah Abro named the ECP, the president and the Senate secretariat as the respondents.

However, the IHC registrar’s office raised an objection on the petition. It said that the Peshawar High Court (PHC) was hearing a case pertaining to the polls on vacant Senate seats from KP. It told the party to approach the PHC instead.

Despite this, IHC Chief Justice (CJ) Aamer Farooq took up the case and presided over the hearing while lawyer Shoaib Shaheen represented the petitioners. At the outset of the hearing, the IHC CJ asked whether this matter was also being heard by the PHC.

Shoaib responded that the matter being heard in the PHC was different as it pertained to KP Assembly Speaker Babar Saleem Swati not administering the oath to opposition MPAs elected on reserved seats.

“We have challenged the election of chairman and deputy chairman of Senate,” he said. “The election is going to be held tomorrow and we have challenged it,” he added.

He contended that the ECP had postponed polls in KP after oaths were not administered on reserved seats. “Now, without the senators of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate are going to be elected tomorrow,” he said.

Shaheen urged the court to postpone the polls to the top slots until vacant seats were filled in KP. “All of this is being done to break the federation,” he said, adding that postponing Senate polls in KP was “illegal”.

“The election of the prime minister, [National Assembly] speaker and deputy speaker took place with reserved seats vacant,” Shoaib lamented.

“Senate elections have been held in the rest of the provinces, but they have been postponed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” Shoaib said.

At one point, the IHC CJ asked when the election for the Senate chairman and deputy chairman was. To this, Shaheen said that it was tomorrow.

“If the election is stopped, it will be better. What is the problem if elections are held after Eid?” he asked.

Reserving the verdict in the case, Justice Farooq remarked that it had to be seen whether the elections could even be stopped or not. Later, the court issued notices to the electoral watchdog and sought its response. The court also removed the objections of the registrar’s office.

The petition filed by the PTI senators, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, noted that elections on vacant Senate seats were not held on April 2 and were postponed.

It said that the ECP notification delaying polls in KP was issued without “lawful authority” and “in violation of the Constitution in as much as the ECP has now announced to hold elections to the offices of the chairman and deputy chairman”.

It further said that it was “widely reported that on April 9 a session of an incomplete Senate has been [called] to hold elections” for the Senate top slots.

It contended that the elections for the slots could not be held without holding polls for the vacant seats in KP.

“Under Article 60 of the Constitution, the election to offices of chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate can only be held after the Senate has been duly constituted,” the petition said. “Any election for the offices of chairman and deputy chairman in the absence of a duly constituted Senate shall be void,” it added.

The petition said that the postponement of polls in KP by the electoral watchdog was “yet another ugly manifestation of disregard for the Constitution”. It insisted that it was imperative for elections to be carried out for vacant seats in KP and to be duly notified before a session could be summoned for electing the chairman and deputy chairman.

The petition urged the IHC to set aside the ECP notification delaying polls in KP and for the schedule of these elections to be announced and for them to be subsequently held.

It also requested that elections for Senate chairman and deputy chairman “scheduled to be held on April 9” be postponed until after polls were held in KP.

PTI writes to Senate secretary

Separately, the same five senators submitted a letter to the Senate secretary, which also requested to postpone the elections for the chairman and deputy chairman.

The letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, called for not initiating the process for elections to the top slots until the total number in the upper house of Parliament reached 96 and polls were held in KP.

“It is imperative that we adhere to the constitutional requirements to maintain the integrity and legitimacy of the state,” it said.

“Kindly address this matter with utmost urgency and diligence so that there is no deviation from the constitutional provisions,” it said.

“We look forward to a prompt and appropriate response to postpone the elections of the Senate chairman and deputy chairman till Senate elections are held in KP as per the Constitution of Pakistan.

“Since you are the custodian of the House in the absence of the chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate, the responsibility of upholding the Constitution lies with you,” the letter concluded.


Additional input from Irfan Sadozai

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