ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court on Thursday said that Election Act 2017 could only be struck down if it is incompatible with any provisions of the Constitution.

When a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar took up 13 petitions challenging Election Act, 2017, Babar Awan, representing the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, while referring to Article 204 of the Constitution said that according to this provision, the court has powers to punish any person who abuses, interferes with or obstruct the process of the court in any way or disobeys any court order or scandalizes the court. He also said that Article 5 was about loyalty to the state and obedience to the Constitution and the law.

The chief justice told him that the next article is 6. The top judge said: “Many times, I have examined it [Article 6] but this case does not fall under it by any stretch.”

He, however, said that Article 5 is about loyalty to the state and the obedience of the Constitution. The chief justice asked him that he wanted to say that “if somebody is guilty under Article 204 of Constitution, then how he is loyal to the state, or how he can be a party head and control the party affairs, and control the legislative business:.

Awan said that after the Panama Leaks judgment, the new law [Election Act] was passed and it was done to do away with the effect of the judgment. “After the bill was carried by both the houses of parliament, a proviso was added to the Election Act, 2017,” he said.

The chief justice inquired from Additional Attorney General Waqar Rana whether or not the original bill has the proviso. The AAG said it was the same bill which was tabled in the National Assembly and the Senate, adding that the draft of the bill was presented to the House Standing Committee. He also said that it was the same bill which was presented to the president for assent, and after that, it became the act. He then presented the record of the National Assembly and Senate regarding the Election Act, 2017.

Awan argued that under section 203 of Election Act 2017, the power in a political party [PML-N] rests with its president. He is relevant/applicable for the registration of the party and the certificate of the intra-party election to the Election Commission of Pakistan. He requested the court to strike down the law.

The chief justice said he [Nawaz Sharif] is not a criminal but has been disqualified. He asked the PTI counsel to show whether there is any judgment where the court struck down the law, which is a person-specific. “You are asking us to strike down the act as it is not in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution,” the chief justice said.

The PTI counsel then referred to a para of the Panama Paper judgment wherein an observation had been given against Nawaz Sharif. The chief justice asked: “Can we strike down the law on the basis of a judge’s observation or the Constitution scheme.” Awan said that there was a unique situation in the country that a person who was disqualified by the court was heading the ruling political party. He said that the law enacted regarding election reforms was person-specific. He contended that Article 63A should be read with Article 5 of the Constitution.

The PTI counsel argued that he [Nawaz] heads the party and under his command, the cabinet was reshuffled and he issued party tickets for the Senate election. “The party head for all intent is very powerful but himself is disqualified by the court of law,” he argued.

The chief justice said that in India, Sonia Gandhi was the head of the party. Awan said that a person who could not become a member of the parliament was heading a political party after the enactment of the Election Act, 2017. The chief justice asked if a person was imprisoned for a criminal offence, whether or not he can control the party from jail.

The case is adjourned until today.