ISLAMABAD: As the Sup­reme Court resumes hearing on Monday (tomorrow) the Sunni Ittehad Council’s (SIC) challenge to the Peshawar High Court’s March 14 verdict, the Election Commission of Pakistan on Saturday justified its decision to deny the party reserved seats for women and non-Muslims.

In a concise statement furni­shed before the apex court thro­ugh senior counsel Sikan­dar Bashir Mohmand, the ECP argued that the SIC did not meet the criteria and is therefore not eligible for reserved seats for women and non-Muslims on account of not being a political party within the meaning of articles 51(6)(d), 56(6)(e) and 106(3)(c) of the Constitution, as well as the election programme’s requirement to furnish a list of priority (Form 66) in a timely manner for the reserved seats.

The ECP also pointed out that Article 3 of the SIC constitution limits the party’s membership to adult Muslims only, imposing certain restrictions that violate Articles 17, 20 and 25 of the constitution. Based on this alone, the commission argued that the SIC is not entitled to any reserved seats, particularly those for women and non-Muslims.

A full-court bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Justices Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Munib Akhtar, Yahya Afridi, Amin-ud-Din Khan, Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Ayesha A. Malik, Athar Minallah, Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi, Shahid Waheed, Irfan Saadat Khan and Naeem Akhtar Afghan will take up the SIC challenge on Monday.

SC to hear party’s challenge to PHC verdict tomorrow

In its statement, the ECP explained that the SIC also failed to meet additional criteria, specifically that at least one of its candidates should have contested and been elected on a general seat under the common election symbol of the concerned political party. Therefore, the commission argued, the PHC verdict denying reserved seats for women and non-Muslims to the SIC was correct.

Moreover, it said, a party consisting only of independent candidates who joined such party pursuant to Article 51(6)(d)(e) and Article 106(3)(c) of the constitution, read with Rule 92(6) of the Elections Rules, was not a political party within the contemplation and scope of the constitutional provisions.

“The scheme of the Constitu­tion and the Elections Act 2017 envisages and recognises only three classes of contesting candidates in the general elections, (a) candidates contesting general seats under a common election symbol, (b) candidates contesting elections on general seats as independent candidates after getting respective election symbols and (c) candidates contesting elections on reserved seats for women or for non-Muslims,” it said.

There is no fourth category, the ECP argued, adding that the scheme of the Constitution does not envisage nor recognise any so-called class of “X-party backed candidates”, which in the present case was coined by the media as “PTI-backed independents”.

“The moment a candidate contesting for a general seat fails to submit a party affiliation certificate for allotment by the returning officer (RO) of the common election symbol of the relevant political party within the period prescribed by ECP in the election programme, such candidate loses all the characteristics of being a member of such enlisted contesting political party,” the commission contended.

“This is a fundamental feature of the scheme of the Constitution and the Elections Act. There is no basis for ‘reading-in’ or creating any fourth class of ‘X-party backed candidates’,” the ECP emphasised, adding that in the present case, members of the PTI first submitted nomination forms in which the “declaration on oath” stated that such candidates belong to the PTI.

“On Jan 13, 2023, candidates who earlier submitted nomination forms furnished with signed declarations on oath to the concerned ROs seeking allotment of common election symbol of an entirely different political party i.e. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-Nazriati (PTI-N) instead.

“Thereafter, prior to expiry of the deadline for submission of applications for election symbols, the same candidates sought withdrawal of their earlier application for allotment of election symbol of PTI-N and thereby by operation of law, automatically become independent candidates and contested general elections as such,” the ECP reminded.

“Therefore, there is no basis for seeing through such independent candidates and delving into the past, closed and irrevocable act and choice of any such candidate to still hold attributes of a member of PTI,” the commission argued, adding that the reserved seats have been allotted by the ECP as per the Constitution and the Elections Act on Feb 22 and March 4, 2024.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2024

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