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Senate elections challenged in the LHC

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The Senate elections have been challenged in the Lahore High Court (LHC) by Dr. Zarqa Suharwardi who argues that the declaration of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidates as independent by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is illegal as no law empowers the ECP to make such a decision on its own. Dr. Zarqa is Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) candidate for the seat vacated by Nehal Hashmi in the Senate after his disqualification by the Supreme Court (SC).

The SC had disqualified Nawaz Sharif as the chief of PML-N in its 21st February verdict and declared all his decisions as party head after the 28th July 2017 verdict as null and void. The verdict stated 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.

Read more: PML-N Senate candidates declared independent by ECP

The petition of Dr. Zarqa uses this argument against the Senate nominations of PML-N for the by-elections of the seat vacated by Nehal Hashmi. PML-N had nominated Asad Ashraf and Margboob Ahmed for the Senate seat that were later declared as independent candidates by the ECP since the decisions made by Nawaz were declared null and void. It further argues that ECP has no authority to change the nomination papers of a candidate and the ECP cannot declare a member independent when they are the member of a party

Dr. Zarqa demanded in the petition that the independent candidates of PML-N should be disqualified since in the public image, they’ll still be the members of the PML-N. She further argued that the ECP decision is a violation of the spirit of the Supreme Court’s decision. “Independent character of Senate election breeds corruption, horse trading and defection and the possibility of involvement of all these evils is enhanced in present scenario.”

If the PML-N candidates for the by-elections are rejected, all the PML-N candidates for the Senate elections will be rejected in retrospect.

LHC has accepted the petition and sent an issue to ECP; the Senate elections are now subject to the outcome of the writ. Even though the petition specifically targets the Senate by-elections being held on 29th February, the decision on this petition would affect the Senate general elections being held on 3rd March. If the PML-N candidates for the by-elections are rejected, all the PML-N candidates for the Senate elections will be rejected in retrospect. Even if the petition is not decided on time, the Senate elections cannot proceed until the verdict on this case.

The Senate elections appear to have finally been delayed as it is unlikely that the petition will be decided before 3rd March which is only three days away. If the PML-N candidates are rejected on the LHC’s order, PML-N and ECP might face a penalty for acting unlawfully as the PML-N chairman Raja Zafarul Haq had requested the federal government to accept his party candidates as independent which is in violation of the ECP rules and constitution.

Read more:  PML-N: out or not-out?

Independent candidates can create a lot of issues in the Senate as the seats are divided on a proportionate basis on a party’s representation in the provincial assemblies. The legislative system of Pakistan is bicameral, which means that it is divided into two houses: the upper house Senate and the lower house National Assembly. While the National Assembly is based on the population of each province, the Senate allows equal representation to all federating units to ensure equal rights for all provinces.

If the candidates of the biggest party contest independently, it would breed horse trading, corruption and defection in the process of holding elections, as has been reported by various media outlets in the past. It would infringe on the rights of the provinces and unlawfully steal their representation in the Senate. Subsequently, it would be a violation of basic human rights of the citizens of Pakistan and might be noticed by the Supreme Court. The best course of action would be the delay of the Senate elections until this issue is resolved.


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