SC Suspends Allotment Of Extra Reserved Seats To Political Parties In Parliament

Orders of the Peshawar High Court and Election Commission were suspended as the top court affixed for hearing the matter on reserved seats

SC Suspends Allotment Of Extra Reserved Seats To Political Parties In Parliament

The Supreme Court on Monday suspended the allotment of reserved seats to political parties in Parliament over and above what the standard formula for distribution of these seats stipulates. It did so by suspending past orders on the matter issued by the Peshawar High Court, and the Election Commission of Pakistan has it affixed for hearing a petition filed by the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), the opposition party in Parliament that had hitherto been denied reserved seats.

It will affect the allotment and, hence, membership of some 23 reserved seat members in the National Assembly. Effectively, it will rob — at least temporarily — the government of its two-thirds majority in Parliament. 

The decision was announced by a three-member bench led by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah. Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar also served on the bench.

Justice Shah observed that the basic principle of democracy and the Constitution is the people's mandate, which should be reflected in the parliament.

"A majority can't be negated on technical grounds," the court added.

The bench also inquired whether the Constitution or the election act stipulated that reserved seats would be reallocated to other parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), etc.

"If a political party is unable to attain an election symbol, its voters would be disenfranchised," observed Justice Athar Minallah.

Additional Attorney General Chaudhry Amir Rehman argued that the matter required "constitutional interpretation" and urged that a larger bench be formed for adjudication.

However, he was informed that the hearing is at the "leave granting stage".

The bench further noted that after the initial hearing, the matter regarding the requirement of a larger bench will be considered.

Noting that this was a unique case requiring an interpretation of the Constitution, Attorney General of Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan requested the top court to form a larger bench to review the matter per the Supreme Court Practice And Procedure Act 2023.

Accepting Awan's request, the court decided to forward the matter to the three-member committee that reviews cases filed under Article 184(3).

If the three-member committee decides that a larger bench should hear the matter, then the vote of the second senior-most judge in the Supreme Court, Justice Munib Akhtar, would gain significance.

The Sunni Ittehad Council had argued that it should be allotted reserved seats for women and minorities based on its elected strength in Parliament, which is more than any single parliamentary party.

The party 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.

However, the Election Commission of Pakistan observed in its March 4 order that since the SIC did not contest the February 8, 2024, elections as a party, and all of its members contested not on a ticket of the party but rather as independents, without submitting a preferential list for the reserved seats and thus subjecting the nominated members to due electoral scrutiny — to the level those candidates who are contesting on general seats are subject to — the seats cannot be granted to SIC. It further observed that the reserved seats cannot remain vacant.

Instead, their seats were redistributed amongst the registered political parties in Parliament based on the proportion of seats they had won in the house. However, by doing so, the ECP granted these parties greater seats than what is stipulated by the distribution formula contained in the Constitution.

But now, after a member of the SIC contesting on a party ticket has been elected in the by-elections, the party believes it has a legitimate claim to the reserved seats.

The writer is an Islamabad based journalist working with The Friday Times. He tweets @SabihUlHussnain