ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said on Thursday that getting a share in the National Assembly’s reserved seats was its “legal right,” as political parties in the country race to form the next government in the South Asian country.
The PTI announced on Monday its candidates who contested as independents during the Feb. 8 polls and won, would join the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) party to claim a share in the National Assembly’s reserved seats.
A ruling by Pakistan’s top court in January meant members of Khan’s party could not contest the election from their party’s platform but only as independents. Consequently, Khan-backed candidates stunned observers by winning more than 90 seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.
However, Khan’s party was faced with the prospect of losing reserved seats for women and minorities as they are only allotted to political parties based on their representation in the assembly.
“It is our legal right to claim and have the share in the reserved seats in the National Assembly and all four provincial assemblies,” advocate Shoaib Shaheen, a PTI spokesperson, told Arab News.
“We will be getting our share through the SIC’s platform and have fulfilled all the legal requirements for it.”
Shaheen said the SIC would receive 27 reserved seats in the National Assembly, adding that there was “no reason or any legal justification for depriving us of these seats.”
There are 70 reserved seats in the National Assembly out of which 60 are for women and 10 for religious minorities in the 336-member house. These seats are allocated to parliamentary parties on a proportionate basis. Likewise, the reserved seats in the four provincial legislatures are also allocated to the parliamentary parties based on their numerical strength in the house.
Each reserved seat in the National Assembly would be allocated against 4.8 members and by this formula, the SIC may receive 19 seats as the party has 92 members in the National Assembly.
As of Thursday, 86 independent members backed by Khan pledged their allegiance to the SIC and submitted their affidavits to Pakistan’s election regulator announcing they have joined the party.
Shaheen explained that Khan-backed members joining the SIC was also necessary as the PTI wanted to bring all independent members of the party under a parliamentary party to avert defections, play a collective role in the legislation and vote, oppose, or abstain from voting on important matters, such as the national budget.
“We will have a formal alliance with the SIC after the PTI’s intraparty polls, which will hopefully be completed by the first week of March,” Shaheen said.
Political parties who had contested the polls had submitted a list of their members for the reserved seats for women and non-Muslims beforehand to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
However, the SIC did not do the same.
Shaheen brushed aside the concern, saying that “it doesn’t matter” and that the SIC was now submitting a list for the ECP’s consideration.
As per notifications released by the ECP on Thursday, the regulator did not allocate any reserved seats to the SIC in Punjab or Sindh’s provincial assemblies. The list of allotted reserved seats for the National Assembly had not been published till the filing of this report.
Former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad said it was the election oversight body’s “prerogative” whether it wanted to allocate reserved seats to the SIC or not.
“It is the sole prerogative of the election commission now to decide on the matter,” Dilshad told Arab News.
ECP spokesperson Hamid Raza said he would provide an update on the matter when the election regulator takes a decision.
“At the moment, I am not in a position to comment on it,” Raza told Arab News.
Rashid Chaudhry, the deputy director of programs at the Free And Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in Pakistan, cited a precedent where three provincial legislators in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province joined the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) in 2019 after winning as independent candidates.
Chaudhry said the party was later allocated a reserved seat for women even though it had not submitted a priority list with the ECP before the elections.
“The precedent is there, and it is now up to the election commission to decide on it,” Chaudhry told Arab News. He said political parties could submit a new list of nominations to the ECP if their previous lists would stand exhausted.
“Obviously if the ECP denies the share of reserved seats to the SIC, the matter will land in the Supreme Court for adjudication,” he noted.