ECP moves top court against PHC ruling on RO suspension

Sohail Khan
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) sign board in Islamabad. — AFP/File
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) sign board in Islamabad. — AFP/File

  • Advocate Afnan Karim files appeal on behalf of ECP.
  • ECP questions ruling of high court suspending its order. 
  • Requests SC to fix matter for hearing today (Friday). 

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the Peshawar High Court's (PHC) ruling suspending its order about the appointment of a returning officer (RO) for a provincial assembly constituency.

Irfanullah was appointed RO for a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa constituency — PK-91 Kohat II. 

Advocate Afnan Karim Kundi filed the appeal on behalf of the electoral body under Article 185(3) of the Constitution against a verdict given by the PHC on December 27, The News reported Friday. 

The complainants submitted to the PHC the December 25 notification, whereby the Election Commission substituted the returning officer for the KP constituency after which the court suspended the aforesaid notification while issuing notice to the ECP. 

In its appeal, the ECP questioned whether the impugned order of the high court amounted to interfering with the constitutional and statutory public duties of the ECP concerning the appointment of ROs under Article 218(3), read with Section 51 of the Elections Act 2017, and as such no interim relief could be granted by the way of suspension of the ECP notification dated December 25, 2023, substituting the RO. 

Whether the jurisdiction of courts is not barred under Section 236 of the Elections Act, 2017, the ECP questioned, adding as to whether the impugned order of the high court was liable to be set aside as it amounted to derailing the election process.

The ECP questioned whether the high court could suspend the ECP notification without first issuing notice to the ECP and without affording an opportunity to explain that there in fact existed a valid reason for substitution of the earlier notified returning officer with another official which was on medical grounds.

The ECP submitted that the candidates for an election did not have a vested right in their nomination papers scrutinised by a particular returning officer, furnishing them locus standi to invoke writ jurisdiction of the high court in that regard.

The electoral body contended that the high court should not have passed the impugned order in a writ petition that was filed in sheer conjuncture failing to allege any particular prejudice caused to the petitioners by the substitution of earlier RO.

The ECP prayed to the apex court that leave to appeal might be granted to it from the impugned order passed by the high court on December 27, 2023, in the petition in the best interest of justice.

The electoral body further prayed that the matter may be fixed for hearing on Friday (today) in the best interest of justice.

The PHC, in petitions, filed by Dawood Shah and Imtiaz Shahid Qurashi, the aspiring candidates for the said constituency KP-91 Kohat had held that Assistant Commissioner (headquarters) RO Muhammad Usman Ashraf had been substituted with Senior Assistant Director, Local Government and Rural Development Kohat, Irfanullah by the respondents, the ECP and others in violation of its own order dated December 13, 2023, through which ban on posting and transfer of district returning officers, returning officers for February 8 polls had been imposed.

The high court held that the points raised needed elaborate consideration, hence notice be issued to respondents No 1 and 2 for January 4, 2024, to submit their para-wise comments.

In the meanwhile, the court had suspended the impugned order of ECP dated December 25, 2023, whereby the electoral body had substituted the returning officer for the said constituency.