LAHORE - In what can be called a reversal of the changes done by the parliament in nomination papers, the Lahore High Court has directed the Election Commission to put all mandatory information and declarations by the candidates [back] in the forms.

All the political parties had joined hands in the recently dissolved parliament to remove many essential questions about education, profession, business and financial status of the candidates in the nomination forms by making these changes part of the Elections Act-2017.

Just as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was set to start accepting the nomination papers form today (Saturday), the LHC on Friday directed it to add almost all the queries and declarations back on the nomination papers that had been removed.

Partially allowing the petitions moved by journalist Habib Akram and others against the changes, Justice Ayesha A Malik announced court’s reserved verdict.

The court said, “The lack of disclosure and information in the impugned Forms essentially means that a voter will not have the required information on the basis of which an informed decision can be made.

“To make an informed decision voters require basic information about a candidate which include information about educational qualifications, profession and/or business/jobs held, travel abroad.

“Voters also require information to establish the credibility of a candidate meaning thereby information about dual nationality, income tax paid, agriculture tax paid, load default, government due defaulters, criminal record and information of assets and liabilities.”

Justice Malik ruled that the new forms made by the parliament did not provide for mandatory information and declarations as required by the constitution and the law.

She ruled that the term “dependent children” used in the Election Act 2017, specifically in sections 60, 110 and 137 and in Form A and Form B is held to be read down to be construed and interpreted in terms of the constitutional requirement provided for in Article 63(1)(n) and (o) of the Constitution.”

However, the court dismissed the argument that questioned the competency of the parliament to draft the nomination forms as part of the Election Act.

It however ruled that “the ECP is empowered to add or improve Form A and Form B of the Act so as to fulfil its constitutional mandate of ensuring honest, just and fair elections”.

During the proceedings, ECP Director (legal) Umar Hayat informed the court that it is the ECP which always made the nomination papers and several judgments of the Supreme Court had empowered it to do so.

The officer also said that the changes done in the nomination forms were beyond the mandate of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms.

He said the ECP did object to the changes and made requests to committee to hear it before finalising any draft but their request was not entertained.

The official said the ECP was not satisfied with the changes as vital information was ignored which was mandatory under the law. He said the commission can correct the Forms within a week if asked to do so.

Federal Law Officer Zikria Sheikh contended that drafting forms was a consultative process and it was without any mala fide on the part of the legislature. He said the Form A and Form B were made after long consultative process and with all parties’ consensus on it.

He opposed the petitioners’ arguments and claimed that all necessary and relevant information was available for the voter in the current [changed] Form A and Form B for knowledge of the voters as well as the credibility of the candidates.

Zikria said that the election process could not be started without nomination papers. He also said the legislation was made after hectic efforts and through deliberations therefore it should not be set aside.

The petitioners through Barrister Saad Rasool had questioned the new nomination papers made by the parliament as part of the election Act.

They had questioned the power of the parliament to draft Form A and Form B, saying that the parliament was not competent enough to draft the forms for candidates as it was the job of the ECP.

They also said the nomination forms must include information and details of income tax paid, citizenship of any other country, criminal record and the assets and liabilities of all dependents of the candidate.

However, they pointed out, the nomination papers in question lack the mandatory declarations as provided in Article 63 of the Constitution with specific reference to Article 63(i)(n) and 63(i)(o) of the Constitution wherein the declaration included the disclosure of the liabilities of the candidate, their spouse and their dependents.

The petitioners’ counsel contended that the candidates taking part in the elections had been “protected” by the new changes in the Forms and subsequently the voters would not be able to know about the candidates they were going to vote.

The dependent children which had been mentioned in the act were the dependent of the candidates and their information should also be made clear to the voters.

“The declarations would be made with reference to dependents whereas under the Act, sections 60, 110 and 137 and the impugned forms specifically used the term dependent children,” argued advocate Saad Rasool.

The counsel also objected to lack of information with respect to the educational qualification, income tax and agriculture tax payments, dual nationality and information as to whether any criminal offences were pending against a candidate or were pending against a candidate.

The petitioners pleaded the court that the impugned forms be declared unconstitutional for being in violation of Articles 218, 219 and 222 of the Constitution and for curbing the constitutional power of the Election Commission.

 

 

LHC orders ‘reversal’ of changes in election forms