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Courts must deal with poll matters to guard democracy: Supreme court

ISLAMABAD: A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Pakistan has ruled that electoral laws should be interpreted in favor of enfranchisement rather than disenfranchisement. The judgment emphasizes that the aim of setting qualifications and disqualifications for candidates under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution is to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of the political process.

It asserts that in a well-functioning democracy, the criteria for qualifications and disqualifications should be clearly defined, publicly known, and uniformly applied.

The case in question involved the rejection of the nomination papers of a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidate, Tahir Said, from the National Assembly constituency NA-49 (Attock-I). The Lahore High Court had upheld the returning officer’s rejection of Said’s candidature, citing him as a “proclaimed offender.” The Supreme Court, however, ruled that being a “proclaimed offender” was not a disqualification explicitly mentioned in Articles 62 and 63 or the Elections Act, 2017.

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Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, who wrote the judgment, emphasized the importance of upholding democratic principles, fundamental rights, and the right of citizens to freely vote for the candidate of their choice.

The court highlighted that any restrictions on the right to vote strike at the heart of representative government. The judgment emphasizes that a proclaimed offender is not automatically disentitled to contest an election, especially if there is no specific provision in the Constitution or the Elections Act to the contrary.

The ruling underscores the significance of protecting the democratic rights of individuals, even in the face of legal proceedings, and advocates for an approach that favors inclusivity and enfranchisement rather than exclusion. The decision reflects a commitment to upholding democratic values and ensuring that electoral laws are interpreted to maximize the choices available to voters and candidates.

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