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Party with at least one NA seat can be allotted reserved seats, AGP informs PHC

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PESHAWAR: The Attorney General of Pakistan told the Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Wednesday that only parties that have won at least one general seat can be allotted reserved seats. The ECP’s counsel seconded the AGP’s arguments.

The arguments came as the high court heard the Sunni Ittehad Council’s (SIC) plea challenging the allotment of additional reserved seats to various political parties on the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) order.

The plea was heard by a five-member larger bench headed by Justice Ishtiaq Ibrahim and comprising Justice Ijaz Anwar, Justice SM Atiq Shah, Justice Shakeel Ahmed, and Justice Syed Arshad Ali.

On March 4, the ECP declined to allocate reserved seats to the SIC – comprising PTI-backed lawmakers – because it had not submitted a “priority list” for these seats before the February 8 general elections.

In its written order, the ECP stated that the SIC was not entitled to claim quotas for reserved seats for women and non-Muslims “due to non-curable legal defects and violation of the mandatory provision of submission of a priority list for reserved seats, which is a requirement of the law.”

The polls oversight authority noted that reserved seats in the National Assembly shall not remain vacant and will be allocated through proportional representation to other political parties.

Today’s hearing

As today’s hearing commenced, the petitioner’s counsel Qazi Anwar informed the bench that the SC struck down the PHC’s decision to annul the ECP’s order regarding stripping the PTI of its electoral symbol ahead of the February 8 elections. Following this, the PTI’s candidates had to contest elections as independents. However, the law states that independent members must join a party within a stipulated time, which is why PTI-backed candidates joined the SIC.

Justice Ibrahim then inquired whether any candidate of the SIC won in the elections. Justice Ali noted that the SIC chief had contested the February 8 polls as an independent candidate himself. At this, Anwar informed the court that none of their candidates had won.

The court then asked about the PTI-backed independents who had applied to join the SIC on February 21. Anwar confirmed this, adding that most of these candidates had won the election as independents and joined the SIC as per the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) instructions.

Regarding the submission of the list of candidates for reserved seats to the ECP, the court raised concerns about the representation of women and minorities if these seats remained vacant. Anwar sought more time to prepare his arguments, but the court noted that no plea for adjournment had been filed and proceeded with the hearing.

Anwar again requested an adjournment, but the court refused, stating that it could not hear the case the next day due to its schedule. The court emphasized the need to consider the cases of poor petitioners and rejected Anwar’s plea.

The PPP’s counsel, Farooq H Naek, then informed the court about the upcoming elections for Senate seats. When asked if his client had more seats than its share, Naek replied that the SIC did not have a right to the reserved seats.

AGP Mansoor Usman Awan argued that the representation of women and minorities in the assemblies was mandated by law. He clarified that reserved seats would be allocated to a party based on its share of general seats.

The court inquired about the status of the SIC as a political party and its eligibility to contest various elections. The AGP explained that a party needed to win seats in the general elections to be allocated reserved seats.

The ECP counsel supported the AGP’s argument, stating that the SIC was not a political party under the Elections Act and therefore, could not be allotted reserved seats. He emphasized that only parties contesting on their tickets were eligible for reserved seats.

After the arguments, the court adjourned the hearing till Thursday morning, allowing the SIC lawyer to present his arguments.