Supreme Court full court begins hearing SIC plea on reserved seats

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DNA

ISLAMABAD: The full court bench of the Supreme Court has taken up the petition of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) — the ally of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — on Monday, challenging the Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) verdict that denied it reserved seats for women and minorities. 

The 13-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, comprises all the available judges apart from Justice Musarrat Hilali, who is not present due to a heart ailment. 

On May 6, a three-member SC bench headed by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, and including Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Athar Minallah, suspended the PHC verdict and referred the matter to the judges’ committee for the formation of a larger bench since the matter required constitutional interpretation.

In its written order, the court stated that the questions of allocation of reserved seats in the national and provincial assemblies touch upon the foundational constitutional concept of parliamentary democracy that the voice of the electorate is truly reflected in the composition of the assemblies.

“Democratic mandate necessitates that the allocation of reserved seats enhances the representativeness of the electorate in the assemblies and upholds the principles of fairness and transparency in the electoral process. It is paramount to prioriti[s]e the integrity of the elections so that the Parliament remains a true reflection of the will of the people,” it said and granted leave to appeal.

The matter had ended up in the Supreme Court after the PHC had turned down SIC’s plea for reserved seats.

In April, SIC chief Sahibzada Hamid Raza as well as the speaker of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly had filed appeals in the apex court against the judgment of the PHC, praying to allot the party 67 women and 11 minority seats in the assemblies, besides praying for setting aside the high court’s verdict.

Following the February 8 general elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan decided not to allocate reserved seats for women and minorities to the SIC as it had not submitted its list of candidates for those seats. The decision was also upheld by the PHC.

However, when the decision was challenged in the Supreme Court, the PHC order was suspended. 

Following the SC order, the ECP suspended the victory notifications of 77 lawmakers elected on reserved seats denied to the SIC.

Hamid Raza-led SIC gained prominence after the PTI-backed independent candidates — who won in the February 8 polls — joined it as their party was deprived of its electoral symbol “bat”.

However, PTI’s attempt to claim the reserved seats was thwarted in March when the commission ruled that the SIC was 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”.

The commission not only denied the reserved seats to SIC, it distributed them among other parties.