PTI’s Barrister Ali Zafar announced on Wednesday that Chairman Imran Khan will not be contesting the intra-party polls scheduled for December 2 (Saturday) due to his legal problems, and also confirmed that Barrister Gohar Khan had been nominated for the slot of party chairmanship in a “temporary arrangement”.
The announcement comes a day after the party found itself embroiled in fresh controversy after denying a statement by Sher Afzal Khan Marwat, who had claimed that Imran 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.
Speaking to the media outside the Election Commission of Pakistan in Islamabad today, Zafar recalled that Imran had been convicted in the Toshakhana case as he highlighted the incumbent party chairman’s legal challenges.
On August 5, a trial court in Islamabad had convicted the PTI chief in the case filed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that involved concealing details of state gifts and jailed him for three years. The verdict meant he was disqualified from contesting general elections for five years. However, the same month the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had suspended PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s three-year sentence but he still remains in jail in other cases.
In his media talk, Zafar maintained that a person could not be disqualified for failing to declare Toshakhana gifts. At the same time, he said that the party wanted to pre-empt any “illegal or unconstitutional” steps by the ECP to prevent the party from getting the bat as its poll symbol or cancel the nominations of its candidates.
He noted that while Imran’s Toshakhana sentence has been suspended, a “final decision” had not yet been made.
He said that all these matters were discussed with Imran in the presence of other lawyers. He quoted Imran as saying that he did not want to give the ECP any “excuse” for not giving the party the bat symbol in the upcoming general elections, rejecting the nomination of candidates or for not participating in the election.
“The public is with us. We will win the elections when they happen. I want to take part in the general election. Intra-party polls hold no meaning for me. I want that the Toshkahana case is decided as soon as possible. When it is decided, I will contest intra-party polls as chairman,” Zafar quoted Imran as saying.
He further said that the ex-premier had directed the party to hold intra-party polls, adding that the decision was placed before the senior leadership which had approved it. He said that Imran would not contest intra-party polls until the Toshakhana case was decided.
Zafar said that the question then arose about the candidates for the intra-party polls as well as the nominee for “caretaker chairman”. He said that the names of several prominent personalities were discussed but all of them had been appointed to permanent positions within the party.
“It would not be appropriate to give them a temporary position. That is why we need someone who is not controversial and can play a role in this caretaker mode, this temporary arrangement,” he said.
Announcing Gohar as the nominee for chairman, Zafar said that he was an appropriate pick for a “temporary arrangement”. “With his nomination, you will realise that this is not a minus-one formula, that this is not a coup. He is Imran Khan sahib’s own nominee and is appropriate for the temporary arrangement we are [implementing].”
Zafar further said, “PTI is Imran Khan and Imran Khan is PTI. PTI is nothing without Imran Khan. It doesn’t matter if you’re the chairman on paper. The leader, and the continuous leader, is Imran Khan sahib.”
Zafar said that the party had to overcome legal hurdles as well as implement the ECP’s “illegal and unconstitutional” order on holding intra-party polls which is why it was taking this step.
Meanwhile, Gohar said, “I am speechless. I do not have the words to thank Imran Khan sahib.”
He said that the Imran was the leader of the PTI whether he was in jail or whether he was free. “Khan sahib was the leader and chairman, is the chairman and God willing will remain the chairman,” he said, adding that he would handle the post as party chairman until Imran returned.
‘PTI must stand united’
Separately, PTI Senior Vice President Marwat congratulated Gohar. “PTI must stand united in this difficult time and do all the best to work towards national interest,” he said on a post on X (formerly Twitter).
“I have a message to all those who are busy in propagandas of all sorts. If you are patriotic, you should stop maligning others,” Marwat said.
“I request you all to please keep solidarity and keep your personal likings and agendas on side. We are one team and we will all support Gohar sahib so he can continue to lead PTI in Khan sahib’s ineligibility.
“Please understand we have more important issues to resolve in Pakistan — we have to put up our fight against this continuous oppression on our democratic rights. We have to focus on Pakistan, its freedom and betterment and work as one! Our leader and the nation in large cannot afford propagandas of any sort at this defining moment. I ask for maturity and seriousness to the larger cause,” he said.
PTI’s Zulfi Bukhari also congratulated Gohar for “this monumental honour”.
“I’m certain he will play the role of our temporary/interim chairman to the best of his abilities. And provide all the relevant information to our forever leader/chair and Quaid Imran Khan,” he said.
Bukhari said Imran had once again shown that the PTI was not a “party of entitlement nor can there ever be ‘minus-one’.”
Bickering over Imran’s successor
In the statement issued on Tuesday, the party did not directly Marwat, but 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 Imran, Marwat had 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, 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 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. At the time, it had also said that no decision had been made yet with regards to Imran withdrawing from the election for party chairman or nominating another leader in his place.
But 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.