SC reserves verdict on SIC plea seeking reserved seats

Wednesday, Jul 10, 2024

By News Desk

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday reserved the verdict on the Sunni Ittehad Council’s (SIC) plea against the denial of reserved seats to the party joined by Pakistan-Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI)-backed independent candidates following the February 8 general elections.

The SIC moved the apex court against the Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) judgment which had upheld the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision denying the party reserved seats in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies.

The top court did not mention when the judgment is expected to be announced. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Qazi Faez Isa said the verdict would be announced after judges’ consultations. However, he declined to give any date for announcing the decision. “We cannot say anything yet when the decision will be pronounced,” he said. The court staff also confirmed the court would not be announcing any short verdict later on Tuesday.

The SIC plea was heard by a 13-member full court bench led by CJP Isa. During Tuesday’s hearing Barrister Salman Akram Raja and SIC’s Faisal Siddiqui presented their arguments before the court.

SIC’s lawyer said the ECP’s decision on the allocation of reserved seats to the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) was in accordance with the law and the electoral body was simply behaving as if its decision on the said issue did not exist. “Can a party which won 18 general seats be allocated 30 reserved seats?” the counsel questioned. CJP Isa said: “If your logic is applied then you should get no seats at all as you didn’t win any seats.” The counsel further said the ECP has allocated reserved seats to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F). He also stressed SIC chief Hamid Raza had submitted a document showing his affiliation with the PTI.

“If we accept your arguments then the reserved seats would be allocated to the PTI,” the CJP remarked. In response, Siddiqui said the reserved seats would in fact be allocated to the SIC which has a presence in the parliament.

Presenting his arguments, Barrister Raja said the PTI-backed candidates were declared independent by the ECP. “The ECP didn’t submit complete documents [in the court],” the lawyer said. Reacting to the counsel’s remarks, JusticeMinallah said the electoral body failed to fulfil its responsibilities as a constitutional body. “The ECP tried to suppress the [actual] record before the SC,” the judge remarked.

He also stressed the SIC chief was already a nominee of the PTI even before the apex court’s verdict revoking the party’s electoral symbol ‘bat’. “No one is talking about the right to vote [...] people voted for a certain political party.

“The situation is that a major political party secured votes which in fact was kicked out of the electoral process [altogether],” the judge said, stressing it was not about the right of a political party but that of the people’s right to vote.

“Should we remain silent and let the people’s right be violated?” he questioned. Meanwhile, Justice Waheed also questioned the ECP’s role and said the electoral body was presenting itself as a party. “There once was a time when institutions [behaved] like a body,” he said. After the arguments were concluded, the verdict was reserved by the court.

The reserved seats issue first emerged after over 80 PTI-backed independent candidates emerged victorious in the February 8 elections and subsequently joined the SIC in a bid to claim seats reserved for minorities and women.

However, the PTI suffered a setback after the ECP, citing the party’s failure to submit its list of candidates, denied allocating the reserved seats to the SIC. The party then approached the PHC which upheld the electoral body’s decision on the matter.

Subsequently, the SIC moved the apex court seeking to set aside the PHC verdict and the allocation of 67 women and 11 minority seats in the assemblies. The allocation of reserved seats holds significance as the PTI-backed independent candidates, who make up the majority of the opposition benches, lost reserved seats in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies due to the PHC’s verdict.

The PHC verdict allowed the allocation of reserved seats to the ruling coalition comprising the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and others, led to them securing a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.

The move propelled the PML-N’s number in the lower house to 123, PPP to 73, whereas the PTI-backed SIC number stood at 82. A three-member SC bench comprising Justice Mansoor, Justice Minallah and Justice Mazhar, took up the SIC’s plea on June 6 and suspended PHC’s verdict as well as the ECP’s decision on the said issue.

Following the SC’s decision to suspend the ECP order, the coalition lost its two-thirds majority in the lower house. A 13-member full court bench then took up the issue and held a total of nine hearings on the crucial matter. The SIC’s plea, however, has been opposed by both the federal government and the electoral body.

In its submission to the court via Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan, the government has urged the apex court to reject the SIC’s plea stressing the reserved seats for minorities and women could be given to a political party which contested the polls and won at least one seat besides providing a list of candidates based on the total number of seats it won as per the law.

Meanwhile, the ECP has also adopted a somewhat similar argument contending that the party is not eligible to get reserved seats as it did not submit the list of candidates before the January 24 deadline.

Furthermore, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) also submitted its written arguments before the court that the SIC is not entitled to the reserved seats as it neither contested the February 8 polls nor provided the list for candidates.

It also argued the party did not win a single seat, which as per the written submission, was necessary to qualify for the allocation of reserved seats. “None of the members of SIC contesting for the reserved seats filed their nomination papers let alone with the mandatory requirement of filing them with the list,” it said, adding since the nomination papers were never filed, the same were never scrutinised and none was held eligible to contest the elections.