Verdict on reserved seats due after full court huddle

Published July 11, 2024 Updated July 11, 2024 07:44am

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court full bench had a threadbare discussion on the matter related to reserved seats for wom­en and non-Muslims on Wednesday, a day after closing the hearing on a set of appe­als moved by the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) and reserving the verdict that is now exp­ected to be announced later this week.

The full court after the consultation is expected to come up with an overarching pronouncement on how to allocate reserved seats to the parliamentary parties under the proportional representation system in future.

The apex court had earlier reserved its ruling on the appeals against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the Peshawar High Court (PHC) decisions to deny reserved seats for women and non-Muslims to the SIC.

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa while closing the hearing on Tuesday had simply stated “reserved”, though Justice Munib Akhtar presumed to have suggested announcing the decision the same day. Justice Isa then explained that the judgement was being reserved as it could be longish and that the judges had not yet consulted each other.

Extreme care, attention needed since the matter has ‘historic significance’, says legal expert

Headed by the CJP, the full court meeting considered various aspects of the controversy at length since the case is of first impression and will have a far-reaching impact on the allotment of the reserved seats among political parties in the legislature in future as well. Therefore, a legal expert was of the opinion, “extreme care and attention is needed in deciding the matter as being of a historic significance”.

The legal observer, who extensively attended the entire SC hearing, told Dawn on condition of anonymity that a split decision was expected as every member of the full court was perceived to have made their mind. They might come up with separate opinions on the case, he said, adding that additional notes along with the main judgement were expected.

Fate of 77 seats in the balance

The real controversy before the court is how to deal with the reserved seats if they are neither doled out to other parties having presence in parliament and provincial assemblies nor allotted to the SIC that did not contest the Feb 8 general elections and thus failed to secure a single seat — a legal requirement for the allotment of reserved seats according to the ECP.

The SIC, however, argues that under the concept of proportionate representation system, it is not a constitutional requirement for the allocation of reserved seats that a political party having general seats in the assemblies had contested the general elections.

The commission, in a 4-1 verdict, earlier ruled that SIC was not entitled to claim quota for reserved seats for having non-curable legal defects and violation of a mandatory provision of submission of a party list of nominees for reserved seats.

On the other hand, the SIC pleads that Articles 51 and 106 suggested the concept of proportionate representation system.

Their interpretation suggests the SIC and the PTI were legally not required to submit their list of candidates for reserved seats before the election, because neither the SIC nor the PTI contested the 2024 election under their election symbol rather its electoral candidates contested the said general election as independent candidates.

On May 6, a smaller bench had suspended the PHC judgement and ECP’s decision of depriving the SIC of reserved seats. Subsequently, the ECP suspended the notification of the 77 members on the reserved seats in the assemblies.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2024

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