Govt to argue before SC a disqualified person can hold party office

* Reply by federal govt says The Elections Act, 2017 neither infringes upon fundamental rights of any of the petitioners nor is in derogation of any provisions of constitution

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court is scheduled to resume hearing today (Tuesday) on 16 almost identical petitions against the Elections Act 2017, which paved the way for ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif to be re-elected as head of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

The petitions will be heard by a three-member Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan. Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali will appear on behalf of the federal government.

Earlier on the last hearing, the government had sought time to file reply to the pleas. In its reply submitted on Feb 3, 2018, the federal government has stated that under the law a disqualified parliamentarian can hold a party office, saying that such a person in this case is former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The reply states that the law neither infringes upon the fundamental rights of any of the petitioners nor is it in derogation of any provisions of the constitution.

The reply highlights the fact that the act had been enacted by parliament in accordance with its constitutional mandate. It said both houses of parliament considered and thoroughly debated the bill after its drafting by a parliamentary committee consisting of members of all the political parties.

The reply said the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms started deliberations in 2014 and ended in July 2017 on the provisions and reforms before finalising the Elections Bill 2017. The reply states that the court should not declare a statute unconstitutional on the ground that it violated the spirit of the constitution unless it also violated the letter of the constitution, because the court was not concerned with the wisdom or prudence of the legislation but only with its constitutionality.

Senator Pervaiz Rasheed will represent the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the case.

The court has already restrained the politicians to make any type of political statements at the apex court’s premises.

The petitions were filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Secretary General Syed Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, PPP MNA Jamshed Khan Dasti, Pakistan Justice Party, National Party, All Pakistan Aam Admi Party, Zulfiqar Ahmad Bhutta advocate, Dawood Ghaznavi, Abdul Wadood Qureshi, Sheikh Ashanuddin, Ishtiaq Ahmad Chaudhry, Gohar Nawaz Sindhu and Amna Malik under Article 184 (3) of the constitution making the Federation of Pakistan, ECP, Nawaz Sharif and others as respondents.

The petitions maintain that electing a disqualified person as a head of a political party was tantamount to usurping the spirit of the constitution. Some petitioners have contended that the Elections Act, 2017 passed by the parliament was completely an encroachment on the autonomy of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The petitioners have argued that that this law has taken the ECP out of its constitutional sphere and made it subordinate to the ministries and departments.

The Elections Bill 2017, commonly known as electoral reforms bill, was approved by the Senate and subsequently signed into law by President Mamnoon Hussain on October 2, 2017.

A controversial clause in the bill allowed disqualified politicians to hold a public office or to lead a political party. The Elections Act, 2017 paved the way for disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif to be re-elected as head of the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N).

Section 203 of the Elections Act, 2017 allows every citizen, except for government servants, to form a political party or become its office-bearer.

Published in Daily Times, February 6th 2018.