News Analysis |
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday declared it mandatory for all candidates contesting in the upcoming general elections to submit an affidavit that would require them to disclose the information which was omitted in the new nomination forms.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), and former National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq had filed the application against the Lahore High Court’s June 01 decision to include the mandatory information and declarations as per Constitution and law. The LHC judge Ayesha A. Malik in her judgment ordered the potential lawmakers to revise the nomination forms to include the details regarding their criminal record, nationality, and educational background.
While hearing the case regarding nomination forms Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar directed ECP to draft the affidavits containing columns for the missing information by midnight. CJP reassured the public that general elections will be held on the stipulated time on July 25.
Under the previous law, incomes and assets of elected representatives were readily available which could facilitate swift accountability. Under new Form B, candidates did not have to explain the difference between the net assets of current financial year and previous year.
According to SC’s order, the new form will remain as it is, but omitted details which had all the ingredients to make the elections more controversial must be added using the affidavit. Now every candidate will have to submit the mandatory document to contest the elections.
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One Counsel, Two Petitions, Contradictory Verdicts
Prominent Dunya News analyst Habib Akram had entered the petition in LHC to review the Form A and Form B, which are the part of the nomination form for elections. During the court proceedings, petitioners counsel had provided a comparative chart showing the difference between the 2008, 2013 and 2018 forms which as per his contentions clearly demonstrates that vital information is missing from the ‘Impugned Forms’.
Under the Pervaiz Musharaf regime candidates were required to declare under oath payments of their loans, taxes and utility bills. This practice was followed in 2002, 2008 and 2013. In her judgment, Ayesha A. Malik said that the ‘Impugned Forms’ do not provide for mandatory information and declarations as required by the Constitution and the law and the ECP is directed to ensure that all mandatory information and declarations are included in the ‘Impugned Forms’.
The LHC judge Ayesha A. Malik in her judgment ordered the potential lawmakers to revise the nomination forms to include the details regarding their criminal record, nationality, and educational background.
Moreover, the ECP is empowered to add or improve Form A and Form B of the Act so as to fulfill its constitutional mandate of ensuring honest, just and fair elections. But, Justice Athar Minallah at the Islamabad High Court (IHC) announced a complete opposite verdict on the same petition. He refused to strike down Form A and Form B and disposed of two petitions against the illegal omission in Form A and Form B under Elections Act, 2017.
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In his order, he stated, “It is also settled law that utmost endeavor is to be made to save a statute enacted by the Majlis-e-Shoora. “The Supreme Court has explicitly held that there is no hard and fast rule for the purposes of making improvements in a pro forma of nomination paper”, he added.
Advocate Saad Rasool was the counsel in one of the petitions in IHC and he also represented Habib Akram in LHC. But judges reached a different conclusion on the same petition. SC decision has cleared the confusion. In the view of two judgments, it did not revoke the Form A and Form B – which form an integral part of the Elections Act, 2017. Nevertheless, it ordered to add the omitted information via affidavit. “We need completely clean people [to contest] in the elections.” Justice Nisar remarked.
The Electoral Reforms Committee (ERC) had deleted 19 declarations on oath from nomination papers in the Elections Act 2017 which were mandatory for a contestant in the past. The elimination of these highly significant requirements will effectively mean that there would be no one stopping tax evaders, loan defaulters, and dual nationals to contest general elections and become part of the Parliament.
Under the new legislation, it is not mandatory for election candidates to declare that the outstanding loans from any bank, financial institution, or corporate body in candidates name or in the name of his/her spouses, or any dependent.
Moreover, candidates no longer have to declare the list containing names of spouse(s) and dependents, default in payment of government dues or utility charges, names of spouse(s) and dependents, present occupation, national tax number, education, income tax paid during the last three years, and the companies owned by the candidate or his/her spouse and dependents.
Ayesha A. Malik said that the ‘Impugned Forms’ do not provide for mandatory information and declarations as required by the Constitution and the law and the ECP is directed to ensure that all mandatory information and declarations are included in the ‘Impugned Forms’.
Under the previous laws, candidates had to take oath that, “I hereby solemnly declare to the best of my knowledge and belief that (i) no loan for an amount of Rs2 million or more obtained from any bank, financial institution, cooperative society or corporate body in my own name or in the name of my spouse or any of my dependents or any business concern mainly owned by me or the aforesaid stands unpaid for more than one year from the due date or has been written off.”
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Under the previous law, incomes and assets of elected representatives were readily available which could facilitate swift accountability. Under new Form B, candidates did not have to explain the difference between the net assets of current financial year and previous year. After Nawaz-Khawaja debacle, to make the things easy for the forthcoming parliamentarians, the incumbent government and opposition apparently colluded with ECP [to facilitate the aspiring candidates].
These steps of powerful political mafia curbed the public disclosure of tax status and loan defaults and reduced the power of ECP to scrutinize the candidates. SC’s decision against the controversial legislation is the step in right direction. Because added affidavit is crucial for demonstrating the legitimacy, candidates credibility, his economic resources and also reflects on the honesty and truthfulness of the candidate.