Reserved seats

Published May 15, 2024

AFTER the Supreme Court took exception to its decision to hand over reserved seats claimed by the Sunni Ittehad Council-PTI alliance to its rival parties, the ECP has suspended the notifications of 77 lawmakers belonging to the different assemblies. Following the development, any plans that the ruling coalition had about tinkering with the Constitution without seeking the opposition’s buy-in lie dead in the water — at least for the time being.

Also in question is the fate of the senators who were voted in in the most recent round of elections to the Upper House. The 77 lawmakers who have been suspended from office had participated in the senatorial election, thereby colouring its results. Given what is at stake and the consequences for Pakistani democracy, it is hoped that the apex court will not dally on the matter.

Since it has taken up the case as one which requires constitutional interpretation, a bench comprising at least five judges has to decide how the Constitution intended for reserved seats should be divided. The court must announce a bench at the earliest so that the functioning of parliament is not affected for any longer than is absolutely necessary. It is a shame that more than three months after the general election, we still do not have a clear picture of where things stand politically. The stability which, it was hoped, the exercise would bring remains a pipe dream. Though some leader or the other regularly appears on TV to assure the people that the nation has turned a corner and better days are not too far off, it is difficult to put much faith in such words, especially since it is clear that the various institutional conflicts that have shaped our polycrisis are far from being resolved.

The role played by the ECP in perpetuating this sorry state of affairs, in particular, deserves strict scrutiny. Despite being vested with all the powers it needed to responsibly steer the country through a democratic transition, it could only manage an election that fell far short of the promise of being ‘free, fair, impartial and inclusive’. It then bungled the management of election results, which gave rise to serious controversies regarding the ‘fixing’ of final results. Since then, the ECP has been either unwilling or unable to address the deluge of post-election complaints: for example, it defies understanding why it refuses to notify more election tribunals for Punjab despite being in receipt of nominees from the Lahore High Court. Its decisions and actions clearly need to be reviewed in light of the country’s laws, and its controversial decision regarding reserved seats seems to be a good place to start. The nation deserves to understand what its motivations have been thus far.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2024

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