Reserved seats for women: Possible disqualifications boggle PML-N minds
By Amjad Mahmood
LAHORE: The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has asked its legal minds to seek ways and means for filling the reserved seats likely to be vacated because of disqualification of some of its women MPAs for having bogus degrees.
“A committee of legal experts is brainstorming the issue to recommend the course of action the party should take in the wake of disqualifications,” PML-N chief spokesman Ahsan Iqbal told Dawn, adding, Â“When finalised, the recommendations will be placed before party chief Nawaz Sharif for a final decision.”
Cases challenging qualifications of some PML-N MPAs elected against seats reserved for women are pending with courts.
Shumaila Rana, who became a PML-N MPA against a reserved seat, had been forced to resign after being involved in an alleged fraud case. The PML-N could not refill the seat, for the list it had submitted with the Election Commission had already exhausted – it contained 30 nominations against 66 reserved women seats in the Punjab Assembly and all the 30 women were declared winners under the proportional representation system adopted for the election.
The PML-Q had submitted a list of all 66 nominees while the PPP went for 56.
Amna Jehangir, a woman MPA of the Q League, resigned the other day and the commission notified Humaira Awais Shahid, the next name in the priority list of the former ruling party, as her successor.
The PML-N, ruling Punjab in coalition with the PPP, was not expecting as much response in the 2008 general election as it received and thus did not submit a longer list of nominations, admitted a party leader requesting not to be named.
Now the party is in trouble as removal of MPAs elected on reserved seats may lower its position in the power bargain in the province.
Under the prevailing election laws, a list of nominations once submitted by a political party with the Election Commission cannot be changed.
“…the list submitted by a political party shall not be subject to change or alteration either in the order or priority or through addition or subtraction of new names after expiry of the date of submission of nomination papers,Â” reads clause 4 of article 4 of the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies Allocation of Reserved Seats for Women and non-Muslims (procedure) Rules, 2002.
The law is silent on the situation where a reserved seat falls vacant because of resignation, death or disqualification of a sitting MPA and the list of the party the MPA is representing already stands exhausted.
PML-Q Punjab Secretary-General Chaudhry Zaheeruddin says the PML-N did try to change its list after learning about the alleged deal between Gen Pervez Musharraf and the PPP “when the government officials were directed to give preference to the PPP and not the PML-Q men.” But by that time it was too late as the last date for filing lists for reserved seats was over, he added.
The commission officials say the only recourse left for a political party affected by the list system is either to move a court of law or bring a new legislation to amend the rules.
Ahsan said the PML-N legal committee was exploring both the options. Asked why the party ignored this legal lacuna during parleys on 18th constitutional amendment, which altered a couple of other electoral laws, while Shumaila Rana’s case was on record, he said the fear that raising the issue of just a single provincial assembly seat during talks being held to review the whole constitution could be taken as bad taste barred the PML-N from discussing it. Moreover, no one could think at that time it would become an enormous issue in the wake of fake degrees, he added.
Asked if they had approached the PPP and other parties for bringing a new law to address the legal lacuna, he said: “The contacts can be made after framing up our own proposals.”
The party has not fixed any timeframe for the legal committee to finalise its recommendations.