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Saturday April 20, 2024

Reserved seats verdict

ECP had a legal reason to not give it any reserved seats

By Editorial Board
March 05, 2024
Security personnel stand guard at the headquarters of the Election Commission of Pakistan in Islamabad on September 21, 2023. — AFP
Security personnel stand guard at the headquarters of the Election Commission of Pakistan in Islamabad on September 21, 2023. — AFP

The reserved seats verdict is in. And the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has ruled – in a 4-1 verdict – that the PTI-backed Sunni Ittehad Council is not eligible for the reserved seats allotted to women and minorities. The remaining 77 reserved seats will now be allotted to other political parties. But the dissenting note by the Punjab member of the ECP says that, while the reserved seats cannot be allocated to the SIC, as the priority list was not submitted in time, the constitution will need to be amended before these seats are allocated to the other parties. Needless to say, this verdict comes as quite a blow for the PTI, which will now challenge it in court.

To some, this verdict was expected given that the SIC did not submit any list for reserved seats, so the ECP had a legal reason to not give it any reserved seats. However, given that there was a precedent when the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) got a reserved seat for women in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly after the first post-merger elections in former Fata, there is cause to follow that precedent. BAP had not contested those elections but got a reserved seat after independents joined it. Legal experts say that the ECP could have used this precedent as even the PTI’s case is unique in the sense that its election symbol was taken away right before the elections and thus it had no way of knowing it would have to merge with the SIC, which never submitted a list for reserved seats. To the PTI, this verdict will be seen as a continuation of what started with the bat symbol being taken away from the party just before the general elections. One school of thought has always maintained that just like the bat symbol should not have been taken away from the PTI despite its intraparty elections being a farce or not taking place at all, the reserved seats should either have been given to the PTI-SIC or at least should not be given to the rest of the parties.

The allocation of these seats to the other parties will perhaps justifiably be seen as unfair and, while the other political parties have nothing to do with the ECP’s verdict, if they take the reserved seats – which they most likely will – it will be seen as another polarizing issue in an already polarized polity. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto have been talking about reconciliation and how all political parties should sit and work together but with an already controversial election and now this verdict, we are in for more protests from the PTI. Given that the PTI would not have wanted reconciliation under normal circumstances, now it is nearly impossible for it to happen. Whether the courts give relief to the PTI or not is of course up to the courts and the legal arguments made since both sides have their own legal precedents to back up their respective points of view. However, the political temperature needs to be brought down. This is a real challenge for the Shehbaz-led government.