Friday September 29, 2023

Only Supreme Court can dissolve a party on govt reference

January 23, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Any direct or indirect donation or contribution to a political party from any foreign source -- including a foreign government, multinational, public or private company, firm, trade or professional association or individual -- is prohibited under the Elections Act, 2017.

The law says any such contribution or donation will be confiscated by the government. Since November 2014, a foreign funding case is being heard by the ECP against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Of late, the case has returned to the public and political limelight with the PTI’s detractors urging the electoral body to decide it without any further delay.

In a tit for tat move, the PTI had also filed with the ECP a similar case against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party(PPP) over two years ago. Those cases are also in progress in the ECP.

The Constitution and the Elections Act clearly provide the options available to the ECP, the Supreme Court and the federal government if it is established that a political party is foreign-funded. According to them, the ECP does not have the power to dissolve any transgressing party. Even if the ECP reaches such a conclusion, it will send a reference to the federal government which will act on it and forward it to the apex court only if it is ‘satisfied’ that the concerned party is foreign-funded.

Section 204 of the Elections Act says foreign sources will not include a Pakistani expatriate holding a National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis issued by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra). The contribution or donation includes cash, kind, stocks, transport, fuel and provision of other such facilities. The provision further says that the fee, contribution or donation made by a member or a supporter of a political party will be duly recorded by it. A member will be required to pay a membership fee, if provided in the concerned party’s constitution, and may, in addition, make contributions or donations towards its funds.Section 211 says a political party will furnish to the ECP the list of contributors who have donated or contributed an amount equal to or more than Rs1,000 to it for its election campaign expenses. It will provide to the ECP details of the election expenses incurred by it during a general election.

Regarding information about the source of funds, the law says a political party will, in the prescribed manner, submit to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) within 60 days from the close of a financial year, a consolidated statement of its accounts audited by a chartered accountant containing annual income and expenses, the sources of its funds as well as assets and liabilities.

Such a statement will be accompanied by the report of a chartered accountant with regard to the audit of accounts of the political party and a certificate signed by an office-bearer authorised by the party head stating that no funds from any prohibited source were received and that the statement contains an accurate financial position of the political party.

As regards dissolution of a political party, Section 212 says where the federal government is satisfied on the basis of a reference from the ECP or information received from any other source that it is a foreign-aided political party or has been formed or is operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan or is indulging in terrorism, it will, by a notification, make such a declaration. Within 15 days after that, it will refer the matter to the Supreme Court. Where the apex court upholds such a declaration, the concerned political party will stand immediately dissolved.

When a political party is dissolved in this manner, any member of that party -- if he or she is a member of parliament, a provincial assembly or a local government -- will be disqualified for his/her remaining term. The ECP will publish the names of such lawmakers.

Article 17 of the Constitution says every citizen, not being in the service of Pakistan, will have the right to form or be a member of a political party, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan. Every citizen will also have the right to form associations or unions.

Such constitutional provisions will have to be examined before the federal government declares that any political party has been formed or is operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan. Within 15 days of such a declaration, the government will have to refer the matter to the Supreme Court whose decision will be final.