The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday issued a notice to the PTI in response to pleas against the party’s intra-party elections, alleging they were “rigged and fraudulent”.

The ECP issued a notice to the party in response to the recent plea filed by estranged PTI founding member Akbar S. Babar, who had challenged the conduct of intra-party elections that resulted in Barrister Gohar Khan replacing Imran Khan as PTI chairman.

Gohar was elected as the new party chief after being nominated by Imran for the intra-party election, conducted on Dec 2 on an ECP directive.

However, the party was on the receiving end of sharp criticism over the polls as Babar announced that he would challenge the entire process in a court of law. He had alleged that the PTI had carried out a selection process aimed at throwing out party workers to give the reins to a few lawyers.

Separately, the leaders of the country’s mainstream parties, including the PML-N and PPP, also questioned the legitimacy of the intra-party elections.

The same day, Babar penned a letter to Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja. He had said that after the commission directed the party to hold the polls, the PTI core committee issued a press release saying that preparations were complete and announced Niazullah Niazi as the PTI CEC.

The hearing

As the proceedings of the case commenced at the ECP today, Babar, along with his lawyer, appeared before the commission and said that the party had not provided any schedule for the polls.

“The constitution and the law are very clear about it; hence, I’ve appeared here,” emphasised Babar.

Babar’s lawyer, Syed Ahmed Hasan, highlighted that the ECP had ordered intra-party polls in accordance with the party’s constitution. However, he pointed out the absence of a voter list and a nomination mechanism, stating, “The party’s constitution makes no mention of an election programme.”

In response, an ECP member sought a clarification on it. Hasan stated, “The party’s election commissioner has been keeping access to the database of the party with him.”

He said the ECP had directed that the polls be re-commenced and the PTI conducted elections within two days of the order without fulfilling requirements.

“A man was made chairman behind closed doors,” the petitioner’s counsel argued.

He said neither any scrutiny was conducted nor any paperwork was done as well as no list of final candidates was displayed.

“Hasn’t your membership [of the party] ended,” asked ECP member.

Babar’s lawyer said it had not yet ended, adding that a court’s decision was available in this regard.

He said his client was barred from garnering nomination papers before the intra-party polls.

An ECP member sought a clarification from the counsel, asking “are you challenging the intra-party polls or the PTI’s constitution.”

The lawyer said PTI’s polls were not transparent.

An ECP member asked whether Babar had attempted to obtain nomination papers.

Babar’s lawyer responded, stating, “We went to the party’s office and submitted video evidence.”

The commission, intrigued by the claim, requested videographic proof mentioned by the petitioner. Subsequently, the video was screened during the hearing. When an ECP member asked about the location shown in the footage, Babar’s counsel clarified that it was the PTI’s office situated in Islamabad’s G-8 sector.

Furthermore, he asserted that the ECP could conduct forensic analysis of the video if deemed necessary.

Babar’s counsel implored the commission to declare the PTI’s polls null and void and to mandate a fresh conduct of the elections.

“We have also provided video evidence regarding the party’s polls.”

However, an ECP member remarked: “The law does not say that we order polls again and again.”

A lawyer representing a citizen, Raja Tahir Nawaz, who separately contested the PTI’s intra-party polls, also appeared before the commission.

He underlined that every individual should be afforded an opportunity to participate in intra-party polls according to the party’s constitution. The lawyer argued that individuals in custody and those in hiding were being elected to party positions.

He contended that the entire electoral process was conducted improperly and called for the polls to be declared null and void. He also urged the ECP to take decisive action on the matter and barred the party from allegedly falling into the hands of controversial figures.

However, an ECP member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa insisted that elections could not be conducted multiple times, emphasising that they were bound to occur only once.

After the hearing, the ECP issued a notice to the PTI, seeking its response to the objections raised in the pleas.

The hearing was adjourned until Dec 12.

Small protest outside ECP office

Following the hearing, a small group of protesters gathered outside of the ECP office in Islamabad. Brandishing placards bearing slogans calling for a redo of the PTI’s intra-party polls, the demonstrators were met by police who prevented them from entering through the main gate.

The protesters voiced their discontent through chants, proclaiming messages such as “fake elections are unacceptable, re-elections must be held.”

Speaking to the media outside the ECP office, Babar emphasised the importance of the ECP and judiciary considering that all political parties should be free from the control of certain individuals.

“When you claim to make people cry, nature does the same to you,” he said in a reference to Imran.

Babar criticised the intra-party polls conducted by the PTI, labelling them as an “insult.” He further expressed that such actions amounted to a betrayal to PTI workers.

He underscored that the foundation of true democracy relied on political parties conducting “transparent” intra-party polls.

LHC refers Imran’s plea against intra-party polls to larger bench

Meanwhile, the Lahore High Court referred a separate petition filed by Imran against the ECP’s order to hold intra-party polls to a larger five-member bench.

Justice Shujaat Ali Khan heard the arguments presented by Barrister Ali Zafar today and referred the case to LHC Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti, requesting the matter to be fixed before a five-member bench headed by Justice Shahid Bilal Hassan.

The larger bench — also including Justice Shams Mahmood Mirza, Justice Shahid Karim, Justice Shehram Sarwar Chaudhry and Justice Jawad Hassan — was constituted on January 17 by the chief justice to hear Imran’s petition against his disqualification in the Toshakhana reference.

Plea against intra-party polls

In his plea against the PTI’s intra-party elections, Babar said that after the commission directed the party to hold the polls, the PTI core committee issued a press release saying that preparations were complete and announced Niazullah Niazi as the PTI CEC.

Babar said the press release made no mention of any other names of the PTI Federal Election Commission or share other details of the polls such as the election rules, regulations, detailed schedule of elections, nomination timeline and various other aspects.

He added that the press release also made no mention of the vote-counting process or the announcement of election results. Furthermore, no such information was available on the PTI website until polling day.

Babar said that on Dec 1, he visited the PTI Central Secretariat in Islamabad in the afternoon with other party members but the party representative present at the site had “expressed his helplessness in sharing the required information (nomination papers, voter lists and rules and regulations of the elections) as none existed”.

Commenting on the day of the election, Babar said: “A crowd of a few scores of people, without any prior authentication regarding their status in the party, were assembled in an undisclosed location in Peshawar who shouted: ‘We accept, we accept’.

“The charade was filmed and shown on national television. The same day before noon, the election results were announced to the media. All the candidates were elected unopposed,” he said.

Babar said that “in the absence of basic rules of elections […] the entire intra-party election was a mere eye wash and a vain attempt to hoodwink the ECP”.

He said the “fraudulent” process had “disenfranchised” PTI members from participating in the intra-party elections in clear violation of ECP laws.

Babar added that even representatives of independent organisations such as Pildat had expressed “serious reservations about the transparency” of the intra-party polls.

The founding PTI member said he was left with no other choice than to approach the electoral watchdog and request that it declare the intra-party elections “null and void” while also issuing fresh directives for holding new polls as soon as possible.

Considering the PTI’s “chequered history” in holding intra-party elections, Babar suggested that the ECP appoint independent third-party monitors to review and oversee the process.

Babar further said that the party’s election symbol of the bat be held in abeyance until it conducted transparent polls in accordance with the law.

“It is time that the charade of holding rigged and manipulated intra-party elections must end. All major political parties must be vigorously scrutinised under the relevant laws to allow credible and competent leadership to emerge from within political parties. This is the only way forward for democracy to deliver and meet the challenges confronting society,” he said.

Additional input from Rana Bilal


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