LAHORE: As the process for the upcoming elections gets underway, the PTI’s complaints about mishandling of its candidates and use of state machinery to push them out of contention — even at the stage of filing nomination papers — seem to have escalated.

After several such cases, the PTI on Thursday reported another incident from Gujranwala, which falls in Punjab Assembly’s constituency of PP49. It claimed that police picked up PTI’s potential candidate, Munawar Gill, from the returning officer’s (RO) office even before he received the nomination papers, kept him in custody and released him only after office time was over.

Meanwhile, as the Lahore High Court directed the additional advocate general to verify one such incident, the party also approached the Supreme Court seeking level playing field in the polls.

PTI leader Imran Khan’s lawyer Salman Akram Raja encapsulated the situation thus: “Namaloom afraad are snatching nomination papers from the PTI candidates, even if they get it. I am also planning to file nomination papers and can possibly get arrested.”

The PTI claims that so far, snatching incidents have occurred in 37 constituencies.

It said PTI vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s secretary took a request for nomination papers to Adiala Jail, but he was deprived of them on jail premises.

Hammad Azhar, a former minister and PTI leader, asked party workers to file five additional nominations against each one snatched. “The party has a number of potential candidates in each constituency and they all should go and file nomination papers for the national and provincial assemblies,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Besides, the party issued instructions to its candidates to move a court of law for each such violation. “Against the ROs violating the law, PTI’s candidates need to move written complaints to the ECP for initiation of process for registration of cases against the delinquent ROs, under Sections 184 and 187 read with Section 188 of the Elections Act, 2017 for violation of official duty, for wilfully failing to discharge the duties entrusted to him under the Act and Rules, and for misusing his/her official position in a manner calculated to influence the results of the applicant’s election,” the party said in a statement.

Following the guidelines, PTI’s additional secretary general Barrister Umair Khan Niazi moved the LHC against the alleged snatching of nomination papers in Mianwali. Barrister Lamia Niazi filed the petition, saying her father Advocate Ziaullah Khan Niazi visited the office of the district returning officer to obtain nomination pa­p­ers on behalf of her brother, Barrister Umair Khan Niazi.

She said Barrister Umair will be a candidate from two constituencies NA-89 and NA-90 of Mianwali.

The petitioner said she and her father are covering candidates for her brother in both the constituencies.

She said her father and some other lawyers were ret­urning from the district courts after collecting nomination papers on behalf of Barrister Umair when DSP Qaiser Sheikh allegedly snatched the papers from them. She said her father went back to the election office to lodge a complaint with the RO, but officials present there expressed helplessness.

The petitioner asked the court to order the Punjab IGP to take action against the DSP. She also asked the court to extend the deadline for submission of nomination papers by two days.

Justice Ali Baqar Najafi directed an AAG to submit a report on the matter and verify whether the alleged incident of snatching had occurred.

The judge observed that it was regrettable if the nomination papers had been snatched. He said everyone had the right to participate in the election.

The judge would resume the hearing today (Friday).

SC help sought

In Islamabad, the PTI told the Supreme Court that since Dec 20 was the first day for the submission of nomination forms, several PTI workers obtained nomination forms from ROs. However, the petition said, not only were they arrested, but in some cases, their nomination forms were snatched.

The PTI described these acts as illegal, unlawful and a despicable way to harass PTI workers and leaders by not allowing them to submit the nomination forms.

It is a serious offence and it is being committed under the direct supervision of the police, district management and other agencies, which is a serious threat to the fundamental rights of people, Constitution and democracy, the petition alleged.

The petition contended that ROs and the ECP were under legal obligation to give free and fair environment and treat PTI on a par with other political parties.

Wajih Ahmad Sheikh in Lahore and Nasir Iqbal in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2023

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