• Former PM submitted ‘incorrect declarations’ in Toshakhana case, election watchdog rules
• PTI lawyer contests ECP’s power to de-seat leader, says reference sent under Article 62 while judgement relies on Article 63
• Minister claims Imran can’t hold public or party office for five years
ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday disqualified former prime minister Imran Khan for making a “false statement and incorrect declarations” in the Toshakhana case, prompting countrywide protests by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) workers.
The election watchdog announced the “unanimous decision” amid tight security measures to avoid any untoward situation in anticipation of PTI protests.
As a large number of party workers were present outside the ECP ahead of the verdict, some PTI leaders attempted to climb the walls to reach the commission’s secretariat, as tensions remained high outside the watchdog’s building situated on Constitution Avenue.
Following the verdict, Imran Khan would cease to be the PTI chairman as per a February 2018 judgement by the apex court ruling that an individual disqualified under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution was not eligible to head a political party.
However, the decision by the ECP also ignited a debate on the jurisdiction of the election watchdog and whether the commission had the authority to disqualify the former premier before his trial by a court or tribunal.
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, in a statement about the repercussions of the verdict claimed that Imran Khan has been disqualified for five years and now he could not hold any public office or even the chairmanship of his party. “He [Imran] was found guilty of corrupt practices and thus disqualified for five years,” he added.
However, Imran Khan’s lawyer Ali Zafar contested the verdict and said the ECP had no authority to disqualify Mr Khan. “No institution other than the court of law has the power to disqualify a parliamentarian for making an alleged misdeclaration,” he said, also questioning the delay in the issuance of detailed order which he claimed has not been signed by one ECP member. “This in itself amounts to patent illegality,” he added.
Mr Zafar said the reference was sent under Article 62(1)(f) whereas the ECP relied on Article 63(1)(p) and added that ECP does not have a mandate to disqualify the PTI leader in light of the said reference.
“The ECP has relied on sections 137, 167, and 173 of the Elections Act. These sections say that ECP can file a complaint in case of any misdeclaration before the tribunal within 120 days of the statement. But it does not say that ECP can de-seat or disqualify [a lawmaker],” he added.
The ECP cannot de-seat the PTI leader without a trial as there was no provision regarding disqualification except after a trial by the tribunal, he said, adding that Mr Khan was de-seated even before the trial against him commenced.
“The judgement is hence absurd,” he added.
“Let me reiterate, every gift received by Imran Khan has been paid for according to law and each gift has been accounted for in his tax returns. All proof including sales receipts were submitted to ECP,” he added.
In its decision, the election watchdog said, “We are of the considered opinion that the Respondent (Imran Khan) has become disqualified under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution read with Section 137, 167 and 173 of the Elections Act, 2017, consequently he ceases to be a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan and his seat has become vacant accordingly.”
By making a false declaration, Imran Khan indulged in corrupt practices defined under Section 167 and Section 173 of the Elections Act 2017 and punishable under Section 174 of the same act. ECP directed legal proceedings against the PTI leader and follow-up action under Section 190(2) of the elections law.
According to the ECP, Imran Khan did not disclose details of gifts in the statement of his assets and liabilities for the year 2018-19 and the sale proceeds. He did not provide details of the gift items required under column number 3 of Form-B, it said, adding that the PTI leader also failed to annex the detail of cash and bank account of the sale proceeds. “The amount allegedly received in his bank account does not commensurate with assessed value of the gift items,” it said.
It said Imran deliberately concealed material facts by making “evasive and ambiguous” statements in his response. “The respondent has intentionally and deliberately violated the provisions…has made false statement and incorrect declaration…for the year 2020-21. Hence, attracts disqualification under Article 63(1)(p)…read with section 137 and 173,” it reads.
The verdict prompted a strong reaction from the PTI. Fawad Chaudhry asked the public to take to the streets for their rights. He called the ECP’s ruling a “slap on the face of 220 million people” and said, “Today is the beginning of the revolution”. Not just anyone cannot disqualify Imran Khan. Only the public can do that,” the PTI leader said.
Published in Dawn, October 22th, 2022