PESHAWAR: The Peshawar High Court on Thursday disposed of the petition of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf against “restrictions” on its election campaign after the caretaker provincial government and the Election Commission of Pakistan assured it of continuing to provide a level playing field to all political parties for participating in the upcoming polls.

A bench consisting of Justice Ijaz Anwar and Justice Syed M Attique Shah was told by provincial chief secretary Nadeem Aslam Chaudhry that the government had also formulated standard operating procedures for elections that all political parties were bound to follow.

In response to a query by the court, lawyer for the ECP Mohsin Kamran Siddique, who was also in attendance there, said the delimitation of constituencies had been completed, so there was a likelihood of election schedule being announced next week.

While pronouncing a short order for the disposal of the case, it declared that the detailed judgement would have necessary directives for the respondents, including the KP government and ECP, for ensuring all political parties have equal opportunities of electioneering.

Poll schedule expected next week, Election Commission tells PHC

The bench was hearing a petition of former prime minister Imran Khan’s party for contempt proceedings against the provincial government and the administration of Mansehra district for “not allowing” it to hold a workers’ convention despite the court’s orders.

The petition was jointly filed by PTI provincial president Ali Amin Gandapur, its provincial legal coordinator Mashal Azam and Insaf Lawyers Forum provincial vice-president Malik Arshad Ahmad seeking contempt proceedings against the provincial chief secretary, Mansehra DC and DPO, and other relevant officers.

Shah Faisal Uthmankhel, Ali Zaman, Inam Yousafzai and other lawyers for the petitioners contended that the government and district administration across the province had been discriminating against the PTI by not allowing it to carry out political activities for the forthcoming general elections.

They said that whenever the PTI announced the holding of a public meeting in a district, the administration imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedures banning such gatherings.

Besides the chief secretary, Provincial Election Commissioner Shamshad Khan, advocate general Aamir Javed, additional advocate general Danyal Chamkani and the counsel for ECP also appeared before the bench.

During the last hearing on Nov 30, the bench had summoned the chief election commissioner to inform it whether it has taken any action against the caretaker government for restricting the PTI from holding public meetings for the upcoming elections.

It also directed the province’s chief secretary to appear before it and explain when certain SOPs were devised for all political parties on its orders, whether such SOPs were applied to one political party only or all political parties were bound to adhere to them.

The bench on Thursday asked the chief secretary whether any ban was imposed on a particular political party from carrying out political activities in the province.

It observed that while other parties had freely been carrying out their election campaigns, whenever the petitioners’ party announced the holding of any public meeting, the administration of that particular district imposed Section 144 CrPC.

The chief secretary informed the court that the provincial government was providing a level playing field to all political parties ahead of the next elections and that the PTI, too, held a workers convention in Peshawar on Dec 6.

He added that in light of the delicate law and order situation, the government had devised SOPS for political parties to follow.

“All parties have to formally approach the district administration for permission to hold public meetings,” he said.

The chief secretary said recently, authorities denied permission to the Awami National Party and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl for holding their conventions as they didn’t follow SOPs.

AG Aamir Javed said the impression that a particular party had been targeted ahead of elections should be dispelled.

Justice Ijaz Anwar observed that the PTI got the permission to hold a workers’ convention at the intervention of the court.

The bench asked ECP officials whether the commission’s district monitoring officers had given any report about electioneering-related discrimination against a party ahead.

Lawyer for the ECP Mohsin Kamran Siddique said it was his client’s prime responsibility to conduct free and fair polls in the country and that whenever the law was violated, it took action.

Meanwhile, another high court bench consisting of Chief Justice Mohammad Ibrahim Khan and Justice Ishtiaq Ibrahim directed the administration of Kohat district to issue orders within three days on an application of the PTI for permission to hold a workers convention in the district on Dec 10.

Advocates Sher Afzal Khan Marwat, Syed Sikander Hayat Shah and Khurram Zeeshan appeared for petitioner and PTI Kohat district president Aftab Alam and said their client had given applications to the administration twice seeking its nod for the Dec 10 workers’ convention but the administration’s response was still awaited.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2023

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