ISLAMABAD: A controversy over what apparently started as an internal dispute between a political party and one of its workers spilled over into the country’s highest court with a plea that someone it had not fielded as its candidate has managed to win the slot, allegedly through impersonation.

The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) moved the Supreme Court against the Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) April 2 order which had led the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to reinstate Sadaf Ihsan as a member of the National Assembly.

Sadaf Ihsan is accused of stealing identity and impersonating another candidate actually fielded by the JUI-F on a reserved seat for women from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

It may be recalled that the ECP had earlier withdrawn the victory notification after the JUI-F disowned Sadaf Ihsan being a member of the party.

JUI-F claims Sadaf Ihsan ‘impersonated’ its actual candidate Sadaf Yasmin; assails PHC order after her notification by ECP

Moved through senior counsel Kamran Murtaza, the petition explained that JUI-F had submitted with the ECP separate lists of its candidates in order of priority for seats reserved for women and non-Muslims.

The petition pleaded that a list was furnished to the ECP containing all required details for three candidates, including Hina Bibi (Respondent 6). However, to the extent of Sadaf Yasmin — the original candidate whom Sadaf Ihsan apparently impersonated — only her name was added to the list because other details had not been conveyed by her to the party.

According to the petition, prior to the issuance of the notification of returned candidate, the ECP ought to have either rejected the list to the extent of Sadaf Yasmin or sought clarification from the party whether Sadaf Ihsan was Sadaf Yasmin or not.

The petition contended that the JUI-F informed Hina Bibi that Sadaf Yasmin had not submitted her nomination papers as she was living with her family in Karachi, and she had rather decided not to avail of the opportunity. Thus Hina Bibi should have been considered the third validly nominated candidate of the JUI–F.

At the time of submission of nomination papers, Sadaf Ihsan with the probable collusion of someone within the party — who knew that Sadaf Yasmin was not pursuing her nomination — decided to portray herself as Sadaf Yasmin, since her first name was identical.

Initially, the ECP issued a notification on Feb 22, in which two of the 10 seats were given, one to PML-N and the other to JUI-F. Both the returned candidates of these parties were the top priority candidates.

But after the Sunni Ittehad Council’s claim for allocation of reserved seats was decided against them, the ECP issued another notification on March 4, for the remaining eight seats for women from KP in which Naeema Kishwar, who was second in priority list of the JUI-F, was listed as the returned candidate of the party.

Hina Bibi filed an application on March 6 to the ECP while the JUI-F also filed an application against the March 4 notification.

Subsequently, the ECP issued a notification on March 11 suspending the notification to the extent of Sadaf Ihsan and also published a press release on March 12, citing that it had initiated an inquiry and will hear all the parties concerned before deciding the matter.

The press release also stated that the Returning Officer had been suspended as he should not have accepted Sadaf Ihsan as the JUI-F’s candidate.

Fearing the outcome of the hearing before the ECP, Sadaf Ihsan challenged the March 11 notification before the PHC without making the JUI-F a party in the petition, the JUI-F regretted.

Consequently, on April 2, a division bench of the PHC allowed Sadaf Ihsan’s petition.

The JUI-F emphasised that it was purely the prerogative of political parties to decide the candidature for the reserved seats of women in order of priority under Article 51(e) of the Constitution, Section 104 of the Elections Act, 2017 and Chapter VI of Elections Rules 2017.

The ECP can recall or amend a notification issued under Article 51 of the Constitution, read with Section 104 of Elections Act 2017 for reserved NA seats for women, if an impersonator has managed to get a reserved seat due to negligence of the Returning Officer, the petition said.

A political party and the rightful candidate cannot be deprived of a seat due to negligence on part of an ECP official, the petition bemoaned, adding that the claim of Sadaf Ihsan on the seat was a privilege granted by the party. Thus Sadaf Ihsan cannot claim rights on a seat before the PHC by going against the stance of her own party about her being an impersonator and her having no right to enforce for a reserved seat not meant for her, the petition emphasised.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2024

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