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Sunday July 14, 2024

Reserved seats case: Supreme Court reserves verdict on SIC plea

ECP, federal government, PML-N have opposed SIC's petition seeking allocation of reserved seats in assemblies

By Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui & Arfa Feroz Zake
July 09, 2024
CJP Qazi Faez Isa (second right) leads the 13-member SC bench hearing SICs plea on reserved seats issue on July 9, 2024. — Screengrab via YouTube/Geo News
CJP Qazi Faez Isa (second right) leads the 13-member SC bench hearing SIC's plea on reserved seats' issue on July 9, 2024. — Screengrab via YouTube/Geo News

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court Tuesday reserved the verdict on the Sunni Ittehad Council's (SIC) plea against the Peshawar High Court's (PHC) verdict upholding the Election Commission of Pakistan's (ECP) decision denying them the reserved seats.

A 13-member full court bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa conducted the hearing today with Barrister Salman Akram Raja and SIC's Faisal Siddiqui presenting their arguments before the court.

The bench also comprises Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Muneeb Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Amin-ud-Din Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Syed Hassan Azhar Rizvi, Justice Ayesha Malik, Justice Shahid Waheed, Justice Irfan Saadat Khan and Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan.

'ECP tried to suppress its record before court'

During the hearing today, SIC's lawyer said that 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 didn't exist.

"Can a party which won 18 general seats be allocated 30 reserved seats?" the counsel questioned.

At this, 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 that the ECP has allocated reserved seats to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F).

He also stressed that 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 chief justice remarked.

In response, Siddiqui said that 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, Justice Minallah said that 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 that the SIC chief was already a nominee of the PTI even before the apex court's verdict revoking the party's bat electoral symbol.

"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 that 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 that 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 CJP then said that the verdict would be announced after consultations. However, the top judge 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 then confirmed that the court would not be announcing any short verdict today.

What's is reserved seats case?

The reserved seats issue first emerged after over 80 Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (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 SC 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 as many as 77 reserved seats in NA and provincial assemblies due to the PHC's verdict.

It is to be noted that the PHC verdict allowing 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 that 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 that the party didn't 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 that since the nomination papers were never filed, the same were never scrutinised and none was held eligible to contest the elections.