Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah observed on Monday that PTI Chairman Imran Khan had not been barred from contesting in future elections following the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) verdict in the Toshakhana reference against him, adding that the former premier “won’t face any problems” to contest in the NA-45 (Kurram-I) by-election scheduled to be held on Oct 30.

His observation came during a hearing on Imran’s petition challenging the ECP decision to disqualify him over what the electoral watchdog said was his failure to properly account for monetary proceeds from the sale of Toshakhana gifts while he was the prime minister.

At the outset of the hearing, Imran’s lawyer, Barrister Ali Zafar, urged the court to start hearing the petition despite administrative objections by the registrar.

When Justice Minallah questioned what the hurry was, Zafar replied that his client had been disqualified ahead of the by-election in Kurram.

The IHC chief justice observed, “Imran Khan is not disqualified for that election.

“There should be one standard for all. There is no need to rush in this case.”

The court would hear the petition once the objections were removed, the judge said.

When Zafar requested the court to issue a stay order on the verdict, Justice Minallah pointed out that the ECP’s detailed judgement was not available yet.

“Which verdict should the court stay?” he asked. “Imran does not want to return to the same seat he was disqualified from, does he?”

Zafar argued that the stay was needed because the PTI chairman was contesting in an upcoming by-election. However, Justice Minallah said Imran would not face any problems in this regard.

When the counsel argued that the public would not understand the matter, Justice Minallah replied that it was not the court’s job to explain to the public.

“This has not happened previously. The court cannot set such an example,” the judge remarked.

Zafar then said the ECP’s decision was also unprecedented. However, the IHC chief justice observed that it was normal practice to issue a detailed judgement later.

The court expected a copy of the judgement to be released within three days, Justice Minallah said, adding that if it did not happen, then the court would look into the matter.

“The court issued directives to implement [its verdict] the same day in connection with a case related to inmates. The court should issue directives to the ECP to submit the verdict today in our case as well,” Zafar contended.

At this, the judge noted that in the case Zafar referred to, the inmates were being tortured which was why urgent directives were needed.

The PTI counsel said the present case was related to a democratic issue and the ECP could “change the verdict”.

Justice Minallah, however, remained firm, observing that the court would have listened to the petition if there was any reason to rush.

Zafar argued that the ECP had “changed its verdict” in the prohibited funding case against the PTI. “This case has become a black mark against Imran Khan. He does not want to contest the election with it.”

“Many [people] have been disqualified before this case. Did it affect their politics? This court does not issue directives to any constitutional body. We are giving a week’s time. If the verdict’s copy is not received, we will see [then],” Justice Minallah said.

“Wait for the [written] verdict. This is a routine matter. The Election Commission is not delaying it,” he observed.

Zafar then told the court that the ECP had also directed to initiate legal proceedings against Imran to which the judge replied that the sessions court would hear that matter.

Subsequently, the court directed the PTI counsel to remove the objections on the petition within three days.

Imran’s disqualification and plea

The Tosha­khana is a department under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division and stores precious gifts given to rulers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats, and officials by heads of other governments and states and foreign dignitaries.

According to Toshakhana rules, gifts/presents and other such materials received by persons to whom these rules apply shall be reported to the Cabinet Division.

A reference alleging that Imran had not shared details of the gifts he retained from the Toshaskhana and proceeds from their reported sales was filed by lawmakers from the ruling coalition in August, and the ECP concluded on Friday that the former premier had indeed made “false statement and incorrect declarations” regarding the gifts — a ruling that prompted widespread protests by the PTI.

The watchdog’s order said Imran stood disqualified under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution.

Subsequently, Zafar filed a writ petition in the IHC on Imran’s behalf, requesting the court to declare the order “against the settled principles of law” on Article 63.

The plea further urged the court to declare the ECP’s order “misconceived” and set it aside.

Imran also sought a court declaration stating that the ECP lacked the jurisdiction to decide “any questions of ‘corrupt practices and disqualification’” under the Election Act and Election Rules, 2017.

Kurram by-election

NA-45 was one of the four National Assembly constituencies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where polling for by-elections was originally scheduled for Oct 16, but the ECP postponed it. It later issued a notification for holding the polls in the constituency on Oct 30.

Imran will contest for the NA-45 Kurram seat besides Jamil Khan of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Sher Mohammad Khan of Jamaat-i-Islami and several independent candidates.

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