Reserved seats dilemma


A recent decision by the Punjab Assembly to suspend 27 elected lawmakers from reserved seats has caused significant disruption within political circles and has threatened the ruling coalition’s goal of securing a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, thereby diminishing the government’s prominent influence there.

Should the Supreme Court end up revoking the ruling alliance’s hold on these reserved seats, it may undermine their desired comprehensive majority.

The suspension, commanded by Punjab Assembly’s Speaker Malik Ahmed Khan and commended by the transformed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), has rekindled the belief within PTI-SIC that they might reclaim seats allocated for women and non-Muslims in the national and provincial assemblies.

As things stand, the debate is ongoing at the Supreme Court, with PTI-SIC asserting that the current allocation of reserved seats breaks Article 51(6)(d) & (e) of the Constitution. PTI-SIC points out that with 82 general seats in the National Assembly acknowledged by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), it warrants these reserved positions.

In opposition, the ECP posits that, based on Articles 51 and 106 of the Constitution, reserved seats must be distributed via proportional representation exclusively to political parties that contested general elections and secured at least one seat. They argue that, as PTI-SIC neither participated in the elections nor won any seats, it cannot be officially recognized as a political party eligible for reserved seats under the Constitution.

The eventual decision of the Supreme Court is keenly anticipated, as its outcome could severely restrict the PML-N-led government’s ability to make constitutional amendments, a power which requires at least two-thirds of the parliamentary majority.

Previously, the majority held by the ruling coalition allowed them the comfort to pass legislation and constitutional amendments with ease, without obstruction from opposing parties. The final verdict from the Supreme Court is crucial for maintaining this position.

Referencing the recent high court decision that provisionally upheld PTI-SIC’s claim to reserved seats, Omar Ayub, the opposition leader in the National Assembly and PTI-SIC’s secretary-general, suggested that this calls into question several high-profile elections, including that of the Prime Minister, suggesting they might need to be re-conducted.

Contrary to Ayub’s stance, legal experts note that the Supreme Court has explicitly stated that its interim order pertains only to disputed seats and shall be applicable from the date of the order going forward.

‘Risk of Losing Two-Third Majority in the National Assembly’

Political pundit Majid Nizami commented that the government’s position is unlikely to be retroactively altered due to the court’s clarity on past proceedings. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that losing the reserved seats could weaken the government by removing its two-thirds majority and by potentially impacting upcoming Senate elections, where PTI-SIC may gain additional seats.

Echoing Nizami’s observations, Professor Tahir Naeem Malik from NUML University remarked that such a loss would indeed be a blow to the government’s legislative capabilities and could obstruct future proposals for changes in legislation.

Professor Malik reminisced over PTI’s hardships after losing its emblematic cricket bat symbol but emphasized that the latest Supreme Court decision offered a glimmer of hope to PTI’s legislative campaigns. Despite setbacks, he noted that in the Pakistani political landscape, the necessary numbers can often be garnered as and when they are required, citing the motion of no confidence against former Prime Minister Imran Khan as an example.

In related news, the ECP found itself compelled to refute recent media reports concerning its supposed reaction to the Punjab Assembly speaker’s verdict on reserved seats. The ECP categorically denied issuing any statement or directive to their legal representatives on this issue, dismissing circulating media reports as false and unfounded.

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