SIC petition challenges ECP decision on reserved seats for women and minorities

Women make up around 49% of Pakistan’s over 220 million population but have long been under-represented in politics and positions of power. Likewise, non-Muslim minorities constitute only around 3% of the population.

On Monday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan took up a petition filed by the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) — the new political party formed by lawmakers-elect from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The petition challenged the denial of reserved seats for women and minorities to the SIC by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

After the February 8 elections, PTI-backed independent candidates joined the SIC as the PTI was barred from using its electoral symbol, the ‘bat’. In March, the ECP ruled 4-1 that the SIC was not entitled to claim reserved seats due to legal defects and failure to submit a party list for reserved seats as required.

The ECP decided to distribute the reserved seats among other parliamentary parties, mainly benefiting the PML-N and PPP. The PTI rejected the ECP verdict as unconstitutional. Later in March, the Peshawar High Court dismissed an SIC plea challenging the ECP decision, denying the SIC reserved seats.

In April, the SIC, led by its chief Sahibzada Hamid Raza, filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the Peshawar High Court judgment. A three-member bench headed by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah heard the case today.

The SIC counsel Faisal Siddiqui presented arguments. The court then urgently summoned ECP officials and issued notices to the federal government and the Attorney General of Pakistan, Mansoor Usman Awan.

After a break when the ECP officials and AGP appeared, Justice Shah observed, “We have to protect the public mandate. The real issue is of the public mandate.”

Why is the reservation needed?

In Pakistan, there are constitutionally mandated reserved seats for women and non-Muslim minorities like Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis etc. in both houses of parliament.

The reservation of seats aims to ensure the representation of these groups that have traditionally faced discrimination and marginalization in the Muslim-majority country. Women make up around 49% of Pakistan’s over 220 million population but have long been under-represented in politics and positions of power. Likewise, non-Muslim minorities constitute only around 3% of the population and can struggle to get adequate representation through direct elections.

The reserved seats act as a corrective measure to give women and minority communities a voice and promote their participation in the legislative process and decision-making that impacts the whole nation. Having women and minority members helps raise and address issues of concern to these groups.

Without reserved seats, women and minorities may win very few general seats due to socio-economic, cultural and religious factors that create barriers to their electoral success. The reserved seats are seen as vital for ensuring pluralism, inclusion and protecting the rights of women and minorities as inscribed in Pakistan’s constitution.