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Tuesday July 16, 2024

Apex court reserves verdict: SIC shouldn’t get reserved seats as per its counsel’s logic, says CJP

ECP, centre, PML-N have opposed allocation of reserved seats to SIC

By Sohail Khan
July 10, 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 on Tuesday reserved its judgment on the matter of Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), which has challenged the verdict of Peshawar High Court (PHC) denying the party reserved seats for women and minorities in the National and provincial assemblies.

A 13-member full court, headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, reserved the verdict in the appeal of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC). Other members of the bench include Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, Justice Munib Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi, Justice Aminuddin Khan, Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, Justice Ayesha Malik, Justice Athar Minallah, Justice Hasan Azhar Rizvi, Justice Shahid Waheed, Justice Irfan Saadat Khan and Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan.

In his rebuttal, Faisal Siddiqui, counsel for the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), submitted that the Election Commission of Pakistan had failed to fulfil its constitutional obligation of ensuring free and transparent elections in the country as required under Article 218(3) of the Constitution. “The ECP did not fulfil its constitutional obligation but acted arbitrarily, and I will prove how the electoral body failed to fulfil its constitutional duty,” the SIC counsel contended, adding that the reason given was that the SIC did not contest the election and did not submit a list for reserved seats.

The counsel contended that in 2018, the Balochistan Awami Party did not win any seats but was given three reserved seats, adding that the election commission submitted its report on the BAP dishonestly.

Justice Irfan Saadat Khan asked the counsel whether the BAP participated in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) elections. The counsel replied affirmatively but contended that it did not win any seat.

“What will happen if a party gets seats in other provinces but not in one province?” Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel asked the counsel, to which he replied that the BAP did not win a seat in KP but got seats in other provinces. The counsel, however, submitted that the ECP acted in a non-transparent manner. “If the electoral body acted with discrimination, the apex court should look into it,” the counsel submitted.

“You mean that the 2018 elections were valid?” the chief justice asked the counsel. The counsel replied that the Greeks said “When you can’t argue, then attack the person.”

“Whether the example of the Greeks is a good thing or constitutional?” the CJP asked the SIC counsel, to which the counsel replied in the negative but said that the hypocritical behaviour of the ECP was quite evident.

The counsel submitted that the JUIF was also given reserved seats for minorities. But the JUIF said that nothing of this sort was in the party, the CJP told the counsel. He, however, replied that he could show the manifesto of JUIF about minorities.

Justice Athar Minallah observed that people had voted for a political party and asked why the election commission was shying away from saying that elections were held fairly. “A political party was excluded from the election process, while it is mentioned under Article 51(d) that it is the exclusive right of a political party not independents,” Justice Minallah remarked. The judge further observed that if something was wrong in the 2018 elections, should we repeat it?

The SIC counsel submitted that a minority government was changed into a majority one, adding that in the 2024 elections, the PMLN had won two seats but was given five reserved seats from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“You are not the counsel for the PTI but SIC, but all your arguments relate to the PTI,” the CJP told the counsel, adding that as per his logic of arguments, he did not win any seat, so he does not qualify for the reserved seats.

The counsel, however, replied that those were declared independent by the ECP. The chief justice, however, observed that if the court accepts his arguments, the reserved seats will go to the PTI.

The counsel, however, replied that reserved seats will go to the SIC, which is present in parliament, adding that the ECP has admitted the SIC as a parliamentary party.

“You got a bonus as neither you contested the election nor won any seat, but some 95 people who won the elections joined you,” Justice Irfan Saadat Khan told the SIC counsel.

“If the SIC wanted to contest the election, why did it not submit its declaration for its party instead of the PTI (Nazriati)?” Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar asked the counsel.

At this, Justice Athar Minallah remarked that it was forced to do so and that the election commission had failed to render its constitutional duty fairly.

“We had submitted our declaration in this regard but were denied an election symbol,” Faisal Siddiqui submitted.

Justice Athar Minallah asked the counsel if it could be said that the election commission had conducted the elections fairly and everything was done under the law.

The counsel replied that if the Supreme Court believes that the electoral body had transparently conducted polls, they will have no case.

“But if the Supreme Court holds that the election commission did wrong, what will be the case?” Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel asked the learned counsel.

Faisal Siddiqui replied that the Supreme Court would then have to set aside the order and verdict of the Peshawar High Court as well.

Meanwhile, Salman Akram Raja, counsel for PTI Women Wing President Kanwal Shozeb, while commencing his arguments, submitted that he had filed a declaration and certificate of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) but the ECP told him that since the Supreme Court had given its judgment denying the election symbol, the PTI was not entitled to the election symbol.

“We will not treat you as PTI candidates because of the Supreme Court judgment,” Salman Akram Raja quoted the ECP as saying. The counsel alleged that the election commission had suppressed the actual record and did not produce it before the Supreme Court.

“The case is very important as serious questions were raised over the constitutional obligation of the election commission, which tried to suppress the record before the court,” Justice Athar Minallah remarked.

Justice Shahid Waheed, while questioning the role of election commission, observed that there was a time when institutions behaved like a body, but here the election commission came to court to win its case as a party.

Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel, while addressing the counsel, said whether he says that being the candidates of the PTI, they went to the Sunni Ittehad Council and did the right thing.

“We could join the SIC after being declared independents, and there was no option available to us as well,” Salman Akram Raja submitted, adding that on this basis, they are claiming the reserved seats.

“It is the fundamental right of voters and the election commission should not have made a mistake by excluding the major party from the election process,” Justice Athar Minallah observed. Salman Akram Raja contended that once the independents joined a political party, they were entitled to get reserved seats, and when they took oath, it became a parliamentary party in parliament.

“Even the election commission had admitted that the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) was a parliamentary party,” Salman Akram Raja submitted, adding that the independents, after winning the elections, joined the SIC within three days as per constitutional requirement.

Justice Athar Minallah, while addressing Raja, observed that in the 2018 elections, the PMLN had faced the same situation as the PTI was facing now, but the main issue was that a major political party was deprived of the election process in the 2024 elections. “Therefore, it must be kept in mind that it is not about the right of a political party but the rights of people who have exercised their right to vote in the elections, and it should be given significance as well,” Justice Minallah remarked, questioning if the Supreme Court should also look into this aspect.

Later, the court reserved the judgment.