ECP calls emergency meeting
The Lahore High Court on Friday ruled that the nomination form to be submitted by candidates for upcoming general elections does not include mandatory information and declarations as required from the aspiring lawmakers by the Constitution and law, including details such as their educational background, criminal record or if they are dual nationals.
Judge Ayesha A. Malik in her judgement ordered the Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure that all mandatory information and declarations are part of the revised Form A, the nomination form for election to an assembly or the Senate, and Form B, the statement of assets and liabilities.
The court issued its judgement on a petition filed by journalist Habib Akram, asking the court to declare the two forms unconstitutional.
The petitioner’s lawyers contended before the court that the parliament had infringed on ECP’s authority by drafting the nomination form for candidates and making it a part of the Elections Act 2017, which was passed in October last year.
They also argued that the forms had been amended by the parliament to omit vital information and mandatory declarations required under Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution that give voters an idea about a candidate’s credibility.
The court in its judgement noted that the impugned forms do not contain the following information and declarations that were a part of the 2013 nomination forms:
1) Educational qualifications of the candidate,
2) Current occupation/job/profession/business of the candidate
Dual nationality, if any,
3) National Tax Number/Income tax returns/ and payment of income tax,
4) Agriculture tax returns and payment of agriculture tax
Criminal record, if any,
5) Assets and liabilities of dependents,
6) Declaration pertaining to election expenses,
7) Declaration pertaining to any default in loan or government dues by dependents, and
8) Declaration that the candidate will abide by the code of conduct issued by ECP.
“The impugned forms do not provide for mandatory information and declarations as required by the Constitution and the law,” Justice Malik wrote in the 39-page judgement.
“The lack of disclosure and information [in Forms A and B] essentially means that a voter will not have the required information on the basis of which an informed decision can be made.”
In support of his arguments, the petitioner’s counsel had attached a comparative chart showing the difference between the 2008, 2013 and 2018 nomination forms which he claimed showed that vital information was missing from the new forms.
While partially allowing the petitions, the court ruled that the ECP is empowered to add to or improve Form A and B “so as to fulfil its constitutional mandate of ensuring honest, just and fair elections”.
The judge dismissed the petitioner’s challenge to the drafting of the nomination form by the parliament for having no merit.
Justice Malik, however, wrote that while the parliament can make laws to regulate the conduct of elections, “the ultimate authority and responsibility to ensure free and fair elections is of the ECP. Hence ECP is responsible to ensure that a voter is able to make an informed decision and that the nomination forms achieve this objective.”
Hours after the LHC judgement was issued, ECP issued a press release saying it has called an emergency meeting at its secretariat on Saturday to make decisions about improving Forms A and B in light of the court order.
It also directed returning officers across the country not to receive nomination forms today.
The press release said that the high court’s order reaffirm’s ECP’s stance which was presented before the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms that the nomination form should be a part of election rules.
During the hearing of the petition, ECP’s legal director had supported the arguments of the petitioner’s counsel, saying mandatory provisions of the law have been ignored and vital information has not been provided for in the forms.
He had informed the court that the commission in a letter to the Parliamentary Committee for Electoral Reforms requested that the ECP, in the very least, be heard by the committee before any draft is prepared. However, the request was not adhered to.