• Marwat claims incarcerated ex-PM has decided not to contest intra-party polls
• Party ‘disowns’ statement, says schedule for internal elections yet to be decided
• Barrister Ali Zafar says PTI chief has nominated ‘someone’ to contest in his stead

ISLAMABAD: The Pakis­tan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) found itself embroiled in fresh controversy on Tuesday after it denied a statement by one of its own senior leaders, who had claimed that Imran Khan would not contest the upcoming intra-party polls for the slot of party chairman and that he had picked someone to contest in his stead.

While the party did not dir­ectly name newly-insta­lled Senior Vice President Sher Afzal Khan Marwat, it was clear that the clarification thr­o­ugh its official social media account was aimed at remarks made by him earlier in the day.

Speaking to reporters outside Adiala Jail on Tuesday after a meeting with Mr Khan, Mr Marwat stated that the PTI chief had decided to sit out the intra-party polls due to legal constraints and his disqualification in the Toshakhana case.

“Khan sahib himself has decided that he will not contest the polls for the office of PTI chairman,” he had said, adding that this decision was taken with consensus.

However, Mr Marwat also pointed out that the decision could be reversed as soon as his disqualification was set aside.

But just hours later, the PTI’s central information dep­artment issued a statement “strongly denying” spe­c­­ulation in the media over the issue. It also denied the claims by a “senior party leader” about Imran Khan not running for the post of chairman in intra-party elections.

“Discussions are ongoing on all important issues regar­ding the holding of intra-party elections,” the party statement said, adding that no decision had been made yet with regards to Mr Khan withdrawing from the election for party chairman or nominating another leader in his place.

The party said that as soon as the leadership reached a conclusion on when to hold intra-party elections, the date and the selection of candidates, the details would be released to the media.

But Mr Marwat, the party’s new face in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, stuck to his guns in the face of party’s denial, and in response, took to X (formerly Twitter) to say: “Whatever I have said in my media talk about the intra-party election is correct. The decisions were taken by the PTI chairman in the presence of Senator Ali Zafar, Barrister Gohar Umair Niazi and myself,” he said.

“I fail to understand who is behind the contradiction and why the misleading statement was issued. The media are advised to verify my statement with the above persons,” he added.

Separately, speaking to Geo News on Tuesday night, PTI Senator Ali Zafar confirmed that he had indeed met Mr Khan earlier in the day and that there was no confusion within the party.

Mr Zafar claimed that Mr Khan had tasked him to hold consultations and then give his opinion on the situation, so the former premier could make his decision.

“Two to three decisions were made together with him. Firstly, he asked what is the legal status of the ECP’s order to hold intra-party elections so I told him that it is illegal and we should appeal, so the decision was made to appeal it.”

Secondly, Mr Zafar said, the PTI chief had asked whether the party should go ahead with elections despite appealing the ECP order, to which the senator said they should be held.

“I sense the perception and the party leadership does too, that the ECP is somehow trying to not give the PTI the symbol of the bat.”

Mr Zafar said the PTI chief had supported his opinion to hold elections and agreed with it.

A decision was reached that if need be, and if any concerns arose that the ECP would raise an objection if Mr Khan contested the elections, “it is better that we hold elections at the moment, in which Imran Khan doesn’t contest, and we nominate someone else [for party chairman],” he said.

Mr Zafar pointed out that a final decision was yet to be taken on the matter, adding that he would announce the “exact decision” today (Wednesday).

“If he [Imran] nominates someone else and a final decision is taken, then elections will be held,” Mr Zafar said.

The senator added that two to four names were being considered for the role, and that Mr Khan had already picked one of them.

“I cannot disclose it because it was our decision to first have legal consultation, if Mr Khan won’t contest then we will announce the name tomorrow,” he said when asked for a name.

He said Marwat was correct in what he was saying and was present in the meeting with Imran. But he diplomatically added that the PTI statement was also correct since “the final decision will be announced tomorrow.”

In yet another statement on Tuesday, PTI said that all new joinings in the party should now be routed through the secretary general.

“Senior Politicians/Notables on National/Provincial or Regional level should be routed to Party’s Central Secretary General Omar Ayub Khan for the approval of the Chairman PTI Imran Khan,” a circular stated.

Syed Talal Ahsan in Karachi, Ikram Junaidi in Islamabad and Mohammad Asghar in Rawalpindi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2023

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