Sound byte: Dismissal of petitions doesn’t fully vindicate PML-N or PTI

Source: Published in Current Affairs on Monday, December 15, 2014

In a detailed verdict issued on Saturday, the Supreme Court explained the reasons behind why it summarily dismissed three separate petitions asking for the 2013 general elections to be declared null and void. While the court clarified that the petitions were unactionable due to the vagueness of the pleas adopted in them, it also said that the relevant parties had not been included in the case, nor had sufficient evidence been provided to back up the allegations.

This appears to vindicate the stance of the ruling party, which insists that the elections were transparent. However, to try and understand the significance of this verdict and its timing, Dawn spoke to two legal experts: Rana Shamim Ahmed Khan, senior vice president of the PML-N Lawyers’ Forum, and the PTI-allied attorney, Niazullah Niazi to find out what implications the verdict may have on the prevailing political impasse and its outcome.

Q: What is the significance of the Supreme Court verdict which refused to declare elections null and void?

A: The decision was based on Article 225 of the Constitution, which provides a mechanism for dealing with such issues. Before the Election Commission notifies a returned candidate, any aggrieved party can approach the ECP directly, or they can take up the matter with the tribunal following the notification of the returned candidate. Those who are still aggrieved by the tribunal’s decision can then petition the Supreme Court, but not before. This is why I believe that a judicial commission cannot be made because a remedy already exists in the Constitution to deal with such disputes.

Q: Does this vindicate PML-N stance that elections were free and fair or is it still open to action?

A: The ECP organised the polls, a caretaker government administered them; the PML-N, PPP or any other party had no role in their organisation, so how can it have a hand in rigging elections in its own favour? This has been the PML-N’s stance all along, and I think it stands vindicated. Hamid Khan, who is a very senior lawyer, has already approached election tribunals and had his request turned down. But coming out on to the streets, that is no way to get what you want.

Q: Would you consider this a victory for PML-N govt or can this be used by PTI and other protesting parties to strengthen their stance?

A: While the decision is now a matter of public record and the floor is open for discussion on it, I don’t think anyone, especially the PTI, should criticise this decision. The reasons why the court threw the petitions out are very cogent and accurate. When the main affected parties, i.e. parliamentarians who would be unseated by such a decision, were not impleaded in the petitions and no evidence was offered, how could the court have decided differently?

Q: Does the Supreme Court verdict really vindicate the government’s stance that the 2013 elections were free and fair?

A: Not at all, the verdict doesn’t favour the ruling party at all.

The SC rejected the petitions on the grounds that such petitions could not be heard by the apex court and that election tribunals are the appropriate forum to hear such cases.

Personally, I think these petitions should have been filed before elections tribunals because, under Article 225 of the Constitution, election tribunals are the competent authority to hear election-related matters.

While I admit that the Supreme Court rejected the petitions, but that doesn’t mean that it declared the elections as free, fair and transparent. SC mainly rejected the petitions in question on the grounds that there was little to no evidence attached with them.

Q: Do you feel confident that if the proposed judicial commission is formed, the party may be able to furnish enough evidence to get the elections declared as rigged?

A: Yes, we are pretty sure that if a judicial commission (JC) is formed then we will be able to furnish enough evidence because the JC will have the authority to direct departments, such as the Election Commission and NADRA, to furnish authentic records. Secondly, we will also provide whatever evidence we have with us. We believe that this matter can be easily resolved by a JC, as we saw in the case the Memogate affair or the Osama Bin Laden episode. Besides the formation of a JC, we are also demanding the formation of investigation committees to collect evidence from government-controlled organisations.

Q: Will this decision have any impact on PTI’s future course of action against alleged electoral rigging in 2013 general elections?

A: This decision can’t stop our party’s mission of exposing rigging in the 2013 elections. This decision have nothing to do with the PTI’s stance, because the Supreme Court rejected the petitions on technical grounds. If someone things that after the rejection of these three petitions, the government has been given a clean chit, they are dead wrong. The SC can’t and didn’t declare the elections as rigged or transparent and we will continue our struggle against rigging.

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Written by Kashif Abbasi

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