ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought record of the tickets issued by the political parties’ heads for the Senate election from the Election Commission of Pakistan.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, was hearing petitions against the Election Act, 2017.

The court directed the legal counsel of the Election Commission of Pakistan to provide one Senate ticket of each Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

The court also directed the Attorney General for Pakistan to provide record of the debate took place for passing the Article 63A after the 14th Amendment. The chief justice said they will see who was the man at [helm of affairs], adding they will see how many hours were spent on passing the bill in 1997.

The chief justice said if the section 203 of Election Act 2017 is struck down then they would see the steps he had taken and would also examine the tickets issue for Senate elections.

The chief justice questioned if a person steals something from a shop then he can become head of a party. PML-N Defence Counsel Salman Akram Raja responded that it is a political position. Upon that the chief justice remarked whether a thief could become head of a political party.

The chief justice questioned if a person commits a crime and sent him to jail after conviction then he can control the party from behind the bar. Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan said he [party head] is a pivot around which the party moves.

The PML-N counsel contended that Article 63A is to discipline a party’s members and the party head has no final authority. He said there are 20,000 political parties. Justice Ahsan questioned whether looters, plunderers and robbers could head parties. Justice Umar Atta Bandial questioned whether a drug lord becomes head of a party. Raja contended that if there is no embargo then he can but there has to be legislation to bar him. The counsel argued that the PML-N is not the touchstone to test the vires of Article 63A.

Raja said the court would also need to look at the historic perspective of the country as various leaders – Hussain Suhrawardy, Khurro and Hussain Bahshani were declared disqualified.

The counsel said the way Article 63A is presented it seems as if he [party head] has omnibus powers. The chief justice remarked whether the party head is omnibus or omnipotent, he controls the party. He is the man [party head] who has granted tickets for the Senate, the CJP added.

Raja said Article 63A of Constitution was adopted for the first time in 1997 in 14th Amendment, adding the present version of Article 63A is vastly toned down. In the early Article 63A, the party head was very powerful as he can issue show cause and remove any party member after violation party’s rules.

However, in the present Article 63A the head could only refer the matter of any member to the Election Commission of Pakistan, which has the power to de-seat him, ultimately that matter would come to the Supreme Court in appeal.

Salman Raja contended that there is a difference between the Parliamentary Party Leader and the party head.

Earlier, the PML-N lawyer informed that the parliamentary debate has the protection under Article 69 of Constitution. He also informed about the steps that led to the draft bill of Election Act, 2017.

He said after the general elections 2013 there were talks for electoral reforms therefore a Parliamentary Committee was constituted on 25-04-14 and later on 24-10-2014 it was referred to the sub-committee while the draft bill was tabled in the National Assembly in December 2016. He said the bill was debated in the sub-committee and the Parliamentary Committee, which comprised of all political parties. He said that it was the unanimous position of many parties on the electoral reforms.

The chief justice inquired whether the unanimous bill passed by the parliament can’t be struck down. We have to see the vires of the law. Raja contended that there was no mala fide involved in it.

The case is adjourned until today.