Election law review not all about Nawaz

* CJP hints at setting parameters to check filing of frivolous petitions * SC hearing 16 almost identical petitions against Elections Act, 2017

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar on Friday made it clear to the petitioners that the court was not examining the Elections Act, 2017 only to the extent of disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and was instead reviewing it in broad spectrum to ascertain its entire implications.

The CJP was heading a three-member Supreme Court bench, comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, which is hearing a set of 16 almost identical petitions against the Elections Act, 2017.

The law paved way for disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif to regain presidency of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

The bench has to determine whether the disqualification of lawmakers under Article 62(1)(f) of the constitution does stand for life or is time-specific.

In his arguments, Azhar Siddique, counsel for Jamshed Dasti, contended that the election law, which paved the way for former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to become PML-N head, was even in violation of the Islamic injunctions. “If you want Section 203 of the Elections Act, 2017 examined on the touchstones of Islamic injunctions, you should approach the Federal Shariat Court (FSC),” the chief justice told the counsel, adding that the apex court has no jurisdiction to interpret laws on the touchstones of Islamic injunctions.

The court asked the counsel to give arguments on the provisions of the constitution which have been violated by the election law. “One may have to pay a heavy price if he files a frivolous petition,” the chief justice noted. The counsel then argued that any legislation passed by the National Assembly cannot undo Article 62 (1)(f) of the constitution.

Counsel for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Gohar Nawaz Sindhu requested the court to disqualify all the lawmakers who voted in favour of the ‘unconstitutional’ election law. The chief justice noted that some parameters had to be set to filter the filing of frivolous petitions, whose tendency was increasing.

Zulfiqar Bhutta, one of the petitioners, told the court that he would adopt the arguments advanced by Dr Farogh Naseem, counsel for Awami Muslim League chief MNA Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) lawyer Sardar Latif Khosa in the case.

He, however, argued that a person disqualified by the apex court could not become the head of a political party. He said the head of a political party may influence millions of voters. “The new law passed by parliament allows any convicted person to head a political party,” Justice Ijazul Ahsan noted.

Farogh Naseem had submitted that the Elections Act, 2017 was passed only 17 days after the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz Sharif in the Panama Papers case, which indicated that there was intent of mala fide behind it. Latif Khosa had argued that the election law was in conflict with Article 62 (1)(f) of the constitution, thus deserved to be struck down.

Sheikh Ahsenuddin, counsel for Justice Democratic Party (JDP), argued that the constitution does not allow a disqualified person to head a political party. He contended that the amended elections act was only passed to pave the way for ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif to regain his position as party head.

The chief justice noted that the Supreme Court can nullify a law only if it is found against any provisions of the constitution. He said when the election law was being drafted and vetted by the standing committee of the parliament, a representative of the Election Commission of Pakistan was also present in it.

Meanwhile, the court adjourned the hearing till February 13.

In Thursday’s hearing, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had observed that matters related to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif becoming the head of a political party do not fall under the purview of the Article 6 of the constitution.

The bench had asked PTI lawyer Babar Awan if someone sentenced to life imprisonment could remain party head. The CJP had also noted that PML-N’s constitution gives immense power to the party head. He had then questioned whether or not a person being party head could run its affairs from behind bars.

Published in Daily Times, February 10th 2018.