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Sunday April 14, 2024

The reserved seats race

However, the reserved seats issue is somewhat different

By Editorial Board
February 28, 2024
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja. — Radio-Pakistan
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja. — Radio-Pakistan

Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja on Tuesday consolidated all the petitions filed by the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) regarding the allocation of reserved seats. The electoral watchdog had decided to hold an open hearing on the SIC application seeking allotment of reserved seats after PTI-backed lawmakers joined their ranks. There were two apparent reasons for the PTI-affiliated independent candidates joining the SIC: one, to make sure that these candidates should come under party discipline as per Article 63A and not jump ship; and two, not to lose their share of the reserved seats in parliament. The PTI says that no assembly session can be called without notifying reserved seats and if the National Assembly session is called, it will also be illegal. However, legal experts don’t agree with Gohar’s point of view and say that the first NA session has to be held within 21 days after elections, something the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday also confirmed by saying that the National and provincial assemblies would be formed by February 29 and the presidential election, as per Article 41 (4), should be held within 30 days after the general elections. Legal experts also say that the PTI’s insistence that the NA speaker or prime minister or president cannot be elected till parliament is complete is also wrong as parliament is mostly incomplete after elections when some lawmakers contest from multiple seats and if they win all or some of them, they have to give up their extra seats and keep just one.

However, the reserved seats issue is somewhat different. By many legal interpretations, there is little rationale to deprice bonafide elected members their chance at reserved seats if they decide to come under a parliamentary party – which is their right. Per this view, while there is no provision in the Election Act that allows for a completely new list to be submitted by any party, the ECP should still make room for PTI-SIC since this was a unique situation when a party was deprived of its election symbol just before the elections and did not have any way of knowing which party it would eventually end up joining after the elections and whether that party had given any reserved seats list or not. As for the other view, some experts quote Article 51(6)(d), which says “…members to the seats reserved for women which are allocated to a province under clause (3) shall be elected in accordance with law through proportional representation system of political parties’ lists of candidates on the basis of total number of general seats secured by each political party from the province concerned in the National Assembly.” They say that due to this, PTI-SIC should get their seats. But the question of no new list is still a valid concern for most legal experts. As for those who say that parties can give new names, legal experts say that it is only if the list they have given has been exhausted but it does not mean that an entirely new list is being given.

Adding to the confusion are the PPP and PML-N suddenly claiming a stake in the leftover reserved seats. There seems to be little legal expertise in the two parties wanting a share in these seats. Given the fraught political situation, one wonders how many windows of conflict are enough. Perhaps, the ECP needs to resolve this matter as per democratic norms keeping the PTI’s unique situation in mind.