PTI says ECP has assured it will address party’s reservations on level playing field for polls

Published December 22, 2023
PTI lawyer Shoaib Shaheen addresses a press conference in Islamabad on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
PTI lawyer Shoaib Shaheen addresses a press conference in Islamabad on Friday. — DawnNewsTV

PTI lawyer Shoaib Shaheen said on Friday that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had assured the party that it would address the party’s concerns regarding a lack of a level playing field in the run up to the February 8 general election.

He made the remarks after a PTI delegation met with the ECP in Islamabad following the directives issued by the Supreme Court (SC) earlier in the day.

The SC had instructed the ECP to address PTI’s reservations about the lack of level playing. It had also directed the PTI to submit its complaint with the electoral watchdog and ordered Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan to play his role in the matter.

Speaking to the media after meeting with the ECP, Shaheen said: “They (ECP officials) have promised that the grievances will be addressed.”

He added that the ECP assured that action would be taken against all personnel and police officers who had attempted to impede the process leading up to the general elections or had carried out any illegal activity to create obstacles in the smooth functioning of the electoral process.

Shaheen said the commission had assured the party that all the complaints that had been raised would be resolved. He also expressed the hope that the commission would play its role in ensuring free and fair elections.

He said all federal and provincial authorities were bound to assist the ECP in conducting fair and free elections. He added that the ECP had established complaint cells in the provinces and empowered its provincial offices to take immediate action on any complaints.

“Discussion was also held on the ‘bat’ electoral symbol. Today is the last day, they have to decide on our intra-party elections. They have said they will decide at every cost before midnight today and we hope that our problem will be solved,” he said.

Separately, the ECP also issued instructions to the Islamabad chief commissioner, Islamabad and Sindh police chiefs and all four chief secretaries and provincial election commissioners regarding candidates’ nomination papers.

The letters said that various complaints were received about electoral candidates facing difficulties in receiving and submitting nomination papers, with snatching of documents also being reported.

The letters said the ECP had taken “serious notice” of the matter and directed that the necessary action under the law on such matters be taken to inform the electoral watchdog.

SC says importance of free, fair elections ‘cannot be overstated’

Earlier today, a three-member SC bench, comprising Justices Sardar Tariq Masood, Athar Minallah and Syed Mansoor Ali, heard the PTI’s plea seeking level playing field in the elections.

Ahead of today’s hearing, the apex court had summoned AGP Awan as well as the electoral watchdog. As the court initiated the proceedings, it instructed the AGP to act as a facilitator in the matter.

In response to PTI’s apprehensions, Justice Minallah remarked, “The party’s concerns about not having a level playing field seem valid, considering that the events at Usman Dar’s residence were also reported in newspapers.”

He questioned why a single political party was being cornered.

Former PTI leader Usman Dar’s mother had on Tuesday accused PML-N stalwart Khawaja Asif and the police of raiding their Sialkot home and manhandling her. Asif and the Sialkot police had denied the allegations.

“An election is being held on one front, and here you are holding proceedings at Adiala Jail,” Justice Minallah remarked, pointing towards the ECP officials.

“Is this the manner in which you conduct yourselves? You are entrusted with the responsibility of holding elections,” the judge observed. He went on to say, “Your conduct suggests there is no level playing field.”

“Why isn’t the ECP putting a stop to orders issued under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO)?” Justice Masood inquired. The judge asked the ECP to thoroughly examine and address all of the PTI’s concerns.

In the written order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the SC said that the ECP played a crucial role in the democratic process, especially in conducting elections.

It said that under Article 218 (3), the ECP had the constitutional responsibility to conduct elections “honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and to guard against corrupt practices”.

Article 218(3) states: “It shall be the duty of the election commission to organise and conduct the election and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against.”

It further said that while under Article 220 all executive authorities were bound to assist the watchdog in discharging its functions, the ECP was to ensure that polls are conducted “in accordance with the democratic principles and that elections are free from undue influence, coercion, and corruption”.

Article 220 states: “It shall be the duty of all executive authorities in the Federation and in the Provinces to assist the Commissioner and the Election Commission in the discharge of his or their functions.”

The court order went on to say that the ECP was supposed to ensure that all political parties and candidates had an equal opportunity to participate in the election process.

“The importance of free and fair elections, and maintaining a level playing field during elections, cannot be overstated,” the order said.

“Free and fair elections provide legitimacy to the elected government and maintain the trust of the public in the democratic process. A level playing field is essential for the healthy competition, ensuring that elections are a true reflection of the people’s choice, rather than the result of manipulation or coercion. It is important to remember that ‘organising free and fair elections is more important than the results itself’,” it said.

It directed the ECP to address the PTI’s grievances on an urgent basis to ensure that the electoral process remained “smooth, open, transparent, free and fair”. The petition was subsequently disposed of.

The petition

In the petition filed a day earlier, PTI Chairman Gohar Ali Khan said the party should be allowed to contest elections without any discrimination.

The request was made in a petition filed through Advocate Shoaib Shaheen, which named the federation, the electoral watchdog, the chief secretaries of KP, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, as the respondents.

Earlier on Dec 19, the PTI had approached the ECP, but it failed to issue any order to ensure transparency and fairness of the elections. This situation is damaging the integrity of the country, the petition argued, adding that feeling aggrieved, the petitioner then filed a plea before the LHC, Rawalpindi bench, which is yet to hear the case.

It is the responsibility of ECP to hold fair elections, the petition said. But, it added, the district managements are not treating PTI on a par with other parties. Even after the issuance of the election schedule, PTI was not being allowed to hold workers’ conventions, corner meetings or any such political gatherings, the petition alleged.

Besides, FIRs are being registered due to political activities, raids being conducted on the ho­u­­­ses of PTI leaders and workers, and orders under Section 3 of MPO are being passed, the petition alleged.

It said such acts were illegal and tyrannical, adding these “atr­­o­cities” were being carried out in violation of the Constitution, Elections Act, 2017 and most importantly, against the fun­damental rights of the citizens.

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