Pak’s apex court suspends high court verdict denying Sunni Ittehad Council reserved seats

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Islamabad: In a relief to jailed former premier Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday suspended a high court verdict denying the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) reserved seats for women and minorities in the national and provincial assemblies.

The Peshawar High Court (PHC) had rejected a petition of the SIC, which came to the fore after Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf  backed independently elected lawmakers joined it, regarding its claim on reserved seats.

PTI was forced to take the cover of SIC because reserved seats are allott0ed to parties having members in the national and provincial assemblies. Since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was deprived of its bat symbol before the election due to failure to hold intra-party elections as per law, it was not allowed to contest the February 8 general election as a party.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in March ruled that the SIC was not entitled to claim quota for reserved seats as none of its members contested the election from the party platform and it also failed to provide a mandatory party list for reserved seats.

There are 70 reserved seats in the 336-member National Assembly and 156 in the provincial assemblies which are allotted proportionally to the winning parties in the general elections. The reserved seats were allocated to all political parties according to their strength in the assemblies except the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf backed SIC.

The ECP in March also decided to distribute the seats among other parliamentary parties but the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf rejected the verdict as unconstitutional and petitioned against it in the PHC, which rejected the plea.

The SIC then filed a petition before the apex court against the PHC judgment in April.

A three-member bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and comprising Justices Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Athar Minallah took up an SIC appeal against the PHC order.

After hearing arguments, the court suspended the decision by the PHC. “We are accepting the case for hearing,” Justice Shah said, adding that the PHC order upholding the ECP decision was suspended to the extent of the remaining reserved seats given to other parties.

Later, the court adjourned the matter for hearing until June 3. The final verdict whenever it comes will be a moral victory for PTI but may not have any impact on the government. The total number of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lawmakers would slightly increase in the assemblies but still, the party would not be in a position to challenge the government.

Earlier, the SIC in its petition said that the PTI candidates joined the SIC after their party lost its electoral symbol, adding that the ECP also raised no objections to the above independent returned candidates joining the SIC.

It contended that the fundamental premise of the proportional representation system for allocating reserved seats for women and non-Muslims, as outlined in Article 51(6)(d)(e) and Article 106(3)(c) of the Constitution, 1973, does not hinge on whether a political party submits candidate lists for reserved seats before the general election or whether the party contested the election.

Instead, the party asserted that the core constitutional basis for the right to reserved seats under the proportional representation system is determined by the “total number of general seats secured by each political party from the province concerned in the National Assembly” or the “total number of general seats secured by each political party in the provincial assembly.

PTI Chairman Gohar Khan welcomed the apex court’s ruling, saying that his “party had been waiting for justice in the case”.

Independent candidates – a majority backed by 71-year-old Khan’s PTI party – won 93 seats in the National Assembly in the general elections. Former three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won 75 seats while the Bilawal Zardari Bhutto-led Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) came third with 54 seats.

The PML-N struck a post-poll deal with Bhutto’s PPP, the Pakistan Peoples Party, and four smaller parties to gain power at the federal level.

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