PESHAWAR: Peshawar High Court on Thursday reserved its judgement over a petition challenging the decision of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to link Senate polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to oath of opposition members elected on reserved seats for women and non-Muslims.

A bench consisting of Justice Syed Mohammad Attique Shah and Justice Shakeel Ahmad heard arguments advanced by lawyers appearing for petitioner Azam Khan Swati and ECP.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader and former senator Azam Swati had challenged the ECP’s March 28 orders about the possible postponement of Senate polls in the province. He had requested the court to order ECP to hold Senate polls in the province on April 2 as scheduled.

The petition was filed on March 30 before the ECP’s April 2 order for postponement of Senate polls to the extent of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa until the administration of oaths to MPAs elected on reserved seats.

On March 28, ECP, in response to the applications of opposition’s five women MPAs-elect, declared that if the speaker of the provincial assembly failed to comply with the high court’s orders to administer oath to the lawmakers elected on reserved seats, it would postpone Senate elections in the province until the swearing-in of the applicants. ECP put up the polls afterwards.

Petitioner Azam Swati wants decision of ECP declared illegal

Petitioner’s counsel Ali Zaman argued that Senate polls were conducted across the country, but ECP postponed the same in KP in light of the high court’s orders for the provincial assembly speaker to administer oath to the members elected on reserved seats. He said that the order of ECP was illegal and unconstitutional.

He said that ECP didn’t have the power to postpone Senate elections in the province when they were held in other parts of the country. He stated that the petitioner was a contesting candidate, but he was neither heard by ECP nor was he issued any notice for it.

The counsel said that during previous hearing the court had asked ECP to submit schedule of the polls to the court.

Lawyer for ECP Mohsin Kamran Siddique said that the court had not asked for the schedule rather it had sought a report from the commission. He stated that he had submitted a report on behalf of ECP to the court.

When the bench inquired from him about latest situation in the matter, he said that Supreme Court of Pakistan had adjourned to June 24 hearing of the cases related to non-allocation of reserved seats to Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) and allotting the same to other political parties.

He stated that the apex court had ordered that it would conduct day-to-day hearing in those cases. He said that one of the cases pending before SC was about the PHC’s decision to dismiss the plea of SIC against the ECP’s March 1 order to deny that party seats reserved for women and non-Muslims. He said that the court had issued a stay order in that case.

The other case, he said, pertained to PHC’s orders for KP Assembly speaker to administer oath to those opposition members and to allow and facilitate their voting in Senate elections. He stated that in case the apex court decided to allot these seats to SIC, it would benefit the party in the polls.

Justice Shakeel inquired from petitioner’s counsel as to why oath was not administered to those members on the order of high court. The counsel replied that the assembly was not in session, therefore, oath couldn’t be administered to them.

When the bench against inquired as to why its order was not implemented, the counsel said that the petitioner was a contesting candidate in Senate polls and provincial government could give a reply to it.

The bench wondered that if Senate polls were conducted and the apex court upheld the judgement of the high court about administering oath to the members, then what would happen.

The petitioner’s counsel stated that on the same analogy what would be the status of polls conducted if the apex court decided the matter in favour of SIC. He wondered whether results of polls in other provinces would be reversed then.

Advocate Syed Hussain Shah appeared for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and opposed the petition.

Published in Dawn, June 7th, 2024

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