News Analysis |
The legitimacy of the 3rd March Senate elections have been challenged in the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday. Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Dr Zarqa Suharwardy has challenged the nomination of 13 senators, 11 from Punjab and 2 from Khyber Pkhtaunkhwa (KP), of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) . She has filed a quo warranto petition in which she has questioned the authority of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to declare the PML-N nominees as independent candidates.
The Supreme Court (SC) had disqualified Nawaz Sharif as the chief of PML-N in its 21st February Elections Act 2017 case verdict and declared all his decisions as party head after the 28th July 2017 verdict as null and void. The verdict argued that a person disqualified to become a parliamentarian cannot become the head of a parliamentary party as the Article 63(A) of the Constitution empowers a party head to influence the decisions of its members in the parliament.
The hearing is set for 4th April. It might also be a deliberate attempt by the LHC to stall the issue until it becomes redundant and forgotten but this is only one example of the thousands of issues pending in the courts, awaiting media attention for their resolution.
The petition in the LHC argues that the nomination papers submitted by the PML-N candidates became void after the SC verdict yet the ECP accepted them as independent candidates. It argues that there is no power vested in the ECP by the constitution to alter the nomination papers of any candidate. The final date for submission of nomination papers was 8th February; it had long passed when the SC verdict was announced so the PML-N candidates turned independent had no right to contest in the elections.
Senate is based on proportional representation and declaring the candidates of a party independent is a violation of that principle as the party whose candidates have been declared independent will not get adequate representation in the Senate. In short, the petition demands that ECP has violated the constitution and the elected of 13 independent senators should be declared illegal by the LHC and action should be taken against the responsible persons.
Dr Zarqa had earlier filed another petition in the LHC on 28th February over the by-elections of the Senate seat vacated by PML-N leader Nehal Hashmi after his disqualification by the court. She was a candidate of PTI in the by-elections and had challenged the PML-N nominee Asad Ashraf who competed against her in the elections. She had requested a stay over the by-elections but the LHC failed to take any action against it.
What will the LHC do now?
The LHC didn’t give a stay order over the by-elections in Dr Zarqa’s earlier petition and it seems highly unlikely this time again. They have sent notices to the ECP and all concerning parties to record their statements but they did so before in the 28th February petition and yet no action was taken. A major reason for this is considered to be lack of media attention on this issue. Since no popular demand for the disqualification of independent candidates has been seen on the media, courts have no external pressure to take immediate action on the issue.
Are Pakistani courts Prone to Populist Sentiment?
A number of media observers and political analysts believe that Pakistani courts are prone to populist sentiments. Unless an issue is highlighted on the media, the courts remain sluggish to solve it. The judge to case ratio is the highest in Pakistan with a number of people awaiting justice. On the contrary, as soon as an issue is highlighted on the media, the courts quickly take notice and order for the resolution of the issue.
The issues of Panama papers, Elections Act 2017, Zainab rape and murder case, Naqeebullah encounter and Asma Rani Murder case prove that the courts’ main focus is on issues that have the immediate public attention. Since the current petition lacks any such populist backing, the courts have not ordered a quick hearing and resolution of this issue. The hearing is set for 4th April. It might also be a deliberate attempt by the LHC to stall the issue until it becomes redundant and forgotten but this is only one example of the thousands of issues pending in the courts, awaiting media attention for their resolution.