Major Blow: ECP rejects PTI-backed SIC’s plea seeking reserved seats in NA

— 4-1 verdict declares SIC ‘not entitled’ to reserved seats

— PTI vows to challenge ECP’s verdict on reserved seats

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Monday rejected the application of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) for reserved seats for women and minorities in the National Assembly.

The SIC, a party backed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), sought these seats through an application that stirred controversy and led to a prolonged deliberation by the electoral body.

A five-member bench, presided over by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, reached a 4-1 verdict, declaring that the Sunni Ittehad Council is not entitled to reserved seats in the National Assembly. ECP member Babar Hassan Bharwana dissented from the judgment in an additional note.

The ECP maintained that these seats would be distributed among other political parties based on their proportional representation. The commission emphasised that reserved seats in the assemblies cannot be left vacant.

However, it’s worth noting that ECP Punjab member Babar Hassan Bharwana dissented from the majority decision, expressing disagreement with the allocation of reserved seats to other political parties.

In the order issued today, a copy of which is available with daily Pakistan Today, the electoral watchdog said it had given a deadline of Dec 22 for the submission of nomination papers by political parties for reserved seats. It said the deadline was later extended till Dec 24.

“The records revealed that the SIC did not submit priority list for the reserved seats for women and non-Muslims,” it noted, highlighting that the party requested the commission for the allocation of seats via four letters after PTI-backed independents joined it.

The ECP further stated that the SIC did not contest elections for any seat in the national or provincial assemblies and even the party chairman, Sahibzada Hamid Raza, contested the polls as an independent candidate.

“In Article 51 of the Constitution it is clear that political parties that have representation in the National Assembly by way of winning seats would be eligible for the allocation of reserved seats for women and non-Muslims through proportional representation system,” the commission said.

It also cited Section 104 of the Elections Act, 2017 which says: “For the purpose of election to seats reserved for women and non-Muslims in an Assembly, the political parties contesting election for such seats shall, within the period fixed by the Commission for submission of nomination papers, file separate lists of their candidates in order of priority for seats reserved for women and non-Muslims with the Commission or, as it may direct, with the Provincial Election Commissioner or other authorized officer of the Commission, who shall forthwith cause such lists to be published for information of the public.”

“Therefore, the commission is of the view that in light of clear provisions of Article 51(6) of the Constitution read with Section 104 of the Elections Act, 2017 […] SIC is not entitled to claim quota for reserved seats due to having non curable legal defects and violation of a mandatory provision of submission of party list for reserved seats which is the requirement of law,” the ECP order said.

It rejected the SIC’s petition and accepted pleas against the allocation of reserved seats to the council.

“The seats in the National Assembly shall not remain vacant and will be allotted by proportional representation process of political parties on the basis of seats won by political parties,” the order said and directed the office to calculate the quota of reserved seats accordingly.

Dissenting note: 

Meanwhile, in his dissent note, ECP member Babar Hassan Bharwana said that he “partially” agreed with the other members of the bench that reserved seats cannot be allotted to the SIC as the party had failed to submit priority lists in time.

“However, I have dissenting views with regard to the allocation of seats by way of proportional representation to the other political parties.

“In my opinion, Article 51(6-d) and Article 106(3-c) of the Constitution clearly state that reserved seats will be allocated to the political parties on the basis of total number of general seats secured by each political party from the province concerned in the National Assembly or such reserved seats secured by each political party in the Provincial Assembly,” he said.

Bharwana added that the seats should therefore remain vacant till the time any such amendment in Article 51 or 106 of the Constitution was made by the Parliament.

The controversy surrounding the allocation of reserved seats for the SIC intensified after a ‘merger’ with the PTI for this specific purpose. The ECP faced criticism for delaying a verdict, leaving the matter unresolved as the National Assembly convened its maiden sitting last week.

The PTI had previously announced its intention to escalate the matter to the Supreme Court if the reserved seats were allocated to other parties.

The controversy took another turn last week when the ECP revealed that SIC Chairman Hamid Raza had allegedly written a letter refusing to accept the reserved seats. Raza vehemently denied this claim, adding a layer of confusion and intrigue to an already complex situation.

The rejection of the SIC’s application by the ECP has added fuel to the ongoing debate about the impartiality and transparency of the electoral process in the country.

PTI to challenge ECP verdict on reserved seats

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on Monday decided to challenge the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in the Supreme Court, which denied reserved seats for women and minorities to the Sunni Ittehad Council in the National Assembly.

The SIC, a party backed by the(PTI, sought these seats through an application that stirred controversy and led to a prolonged deliberation by the electoral body.

A five-member bench, presided over by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, reached a 4-1 verdict, declaring that the Sunni Ittehad Council is not entitled to reserved seats in the National Assembly.

The ECP maintained that these seats would be distributed among other political parties based on their proportional representation. The commission emphasised that reserved seats in the assemblies cannot be left vacant.

In his address during a Senate session following the verdict, PTI’s Barrister Ali Zafar said that the ECP’s decision is a stab in the back of democracy. He emphasised that it is the responsibility of the National Assembly and provincial assemblies to elect senators, the president, the prime minister, and the chairman Senate, and incomplete assemblies cannot fulfil these elections.

He said that Section 6 (D) of the Constitution’s Article 51 mentions that political parties will be allocated reserve seats based on their success ratio.

He highlighted that according to the Constitution, if an independent candidate joins a political party, that party is entitled to reserve seats, adding that SIC should have been allotted 29 seats in NA.

He criticized the decision of the ECP, stating, “The Supreme Court deprived us of electoral symbols through unconstitutional decisions, while the ECP has stabbed democracy in the back by not allocating reserve seats today.”

“After the decision of the ECP, presidential and Senate elections should be postponed because we have been deprived of our reserve seats. We will go to the Supreme Court to reverse this illegal move, and then prime minister, presidential elections, and Senate elections will have to be held again,” he asserted.

Mian Abrar
Mian Abrar
The writer heads Pakistan Today's Islamabad Bureau. He has a special focus on counter-terrorism and inter-state relations in Asia, Asia Pacific and South East Asia regions. He tweets as @mian_abrar and also can be reached at [email protected]

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