LAHORE: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) on Wednesday approached the Lahore High Court to challenge the appointment of bureaucrats by the caretaker provincial government in Punjab, to act as returning officers (ROs) for the upcoming general elections.

Barrister Umair Khan Niazi, additional secretary general of the PTI, filed a writ petition, asking the court to strike down sections 50(1)(b) and 51(1) of the Elections Act 2017.

The petition, drafted by Advocate Abuzar Salman Niazi, alleges that the caretaker government in the province, led by chief minister Mohsin Naqvi, influenced the bureaucracy against the PTI, its leaders, and workers.

It says the PTI is being denied its basic constitutional rights to function as a political party, while its rivals are being supported and patronised in stark violation of the mandate of the caretaker government.

It contends that the caretaker government has made frequent transfers and postings in the bureaucracy in sheer violation of the Elections Act.

It argues that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has confirmed that it is in the process of appointing election officials, including district returning officers (DROs), presiding officers, and polling officers responsible for the conduct of the elections.

The petition pleads that the appointment of ROs and other election staff from among government officers defeats the whole purpose of creating an independent election commission.

The petition asked the court to declare the appointment of the government officers as returning officers and district returning officers unconstitutional.

It urged the court to declare that the incumbent caretaker governments in all provinces have influenced their officers to such an extent or abused their powers in a way that the PTI would not be dealt with impartially.

The petition argued that sections 50(1)(b) and 51(1) of the Election Act violate the Constitution by restricting the appointments of executive officers as ROs and DROs from a list provided by the government.

It said the provision also provides for the appointment of the ROs and DROs from the members of the subordinate judiciary in consultation with the chief justice of the high court concerned.

The petition asked the court to order the ECP to initiate the process of consultation with the chief justice of the LHC for the appointment of judicial officers as the returning officers for the Feb 8 general elections.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2023

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