The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday decided against letting the PTI retain its ‘bat’ electoral symbol for the February 8 general election.

The reserved verdict was announced a day after the Peshawar High Court (PHC) directed the electoral watchdog to decide on PTI’s intra-party polls and electoral symbol by today in “accordance with the law”.

The development also came hours after the PTI met with the commission following the Supreme Court’s order for the ECP to address the party’s concerns regarding lack of a level playing field in the run up to the polls. According to the PTI, the ECP had assured its delegation that it would address its grievances.

Setting a new precedence, the ECP had taken notice of the PTI’s intra-party in which Barrister Gohar Ali Khan was easily elected as the party’s new chairman. The polls were held on December 3, days after the ECP declared as null and void the intra-party polls held in June 2022, giving the PTI 20 days to hold fresh elections or be ready to become ineligible for the poll symbol.

However, the party was on the receiving end of sharp criticism over the polls as estranged PTI founding member Akbar S. Babar announced that he would challenge the entire process. 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.

Subsequently, Akbar had approached the ECP against the intra-party elections, alleging it was “rigged and fraudulent”. Various other petitions were also submitted to the ECP along similar lines as Babar’s with the mutual demands of declaring the intra-party election without effect and orders for the exercise to be carried out anew.

On Tuesday, a five-member ECP bench, headed by Chief Election Commis­sioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, had reserved judgement on the matter linked to the allocation of the ‘bat’ as the PTI’s electoral symbol.

In its order, which was posted on social media platform X (formerly Twitter), the ECP said that according to the PTI constitution, the Federal Election Commission would be formed to hold intra-party elections.

It said the record submitted by the PTI did not show that any competent authority had appointed the Federal Election Commission in line with established procedure. It added that the appointment of a single federal election commissioner was not a requirement of the PTI constitution and such an individual could not exercise any power to hold the intra-party elections in the absence of a complete commission.

The ECP said the PTI had not complied with its directions and had failed to hold intra-party elections in accordance with the party’s prevailing constitution and the election laws.

“Therefore, the certificate dated December 4 and Form-65 filed by the alleged chairman, is hereby regretted and rejected accordingly,” the ECP said.

“The provisions of Section 215 of the Election Act, 2017 are hereby invoked and the PTI is hereby declared ineligible to obtain the election symbol for which they have applied for,” the ECP said.

PTI terms decision part of ‘famous London plan’

Moments after news of the ECP’s decision was aired, the PTI took to X to term the decision part of the “famous London Plan” and a “disgusting and shameful attempt to stop PTI from [participating in the] election.”

It claimed that the party would still win the general elections.

The party said it would appeal the decision at every forum, asserting that its candidates would indeed contest the polls with the ‘bat’ symbol.

PTI’s Gohar said that the party already had concerns about the ECP. Speaking to Geo News, he alleged that the commission was looking at the PTI’s case in far greater detail as opposed to those concerning other political parties.

“We conducted our elections according to the law and the Constitution. We told the ECP to tell us which section and law was violated,” he said. Gohar said that the ECP had filed a reply with the PHC and “said not one word” about which Constitutional provision or section of the rules were violated.

“This is a political decision based on personal vendetta […] this is a conspiracy. What are the elements behind this that you take the symbol from a big party and turn all its candidates into independents?” he asked.

He said the conspiracy was meant to “take revenge from us” and confuse the party’s candidates and voters. Gohar said the party would approach the high court and challenge the verdict. He also said the party had a “Plan B” but did not elaborate further.

The party’s Raoof Hasan termed it an “excessively biased and criminally partisan decision”.

PTI’s Taimur Khan Jhagra noted that the ECP had committed before the SC that it would meet PTI and provide a level playing field.

“Only hours later, they took away PTI’s symbol of the bat. It still won’t work. And the bat will still be back,” he said.

Lawyer Abuzar Salman Niazi, meanwhile, said that the party was without the ‘bat’ for only two to three days.

“No Court will uphold this absurd decision. It will remain a shame for ECP for all times to come,” he said.

PTI lawyer Intazar Hussain Panjutha said the party had expected the verdict and was already prepared “several steps ahead”, adding that it would give a “surprise”.

Fellow PTI lawyer Naeem Haider Panjutha said legal recourse against the verdict would be taken tomorrow.

Talking to Geo News, former ECP secretary Kanwar Muhammad Dilshad said after the decision, the party’s electoral candidates would have to contest the general elections as independent candidates.

He said the party had the option to appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.

Dilshad also said that there was no provision in the country’s election laws which allowed for intra-party polls to be held repeatedly.

“Since the PTI’s intra-party elections were rejected a third time, its candidates would have to contest the polls independently,” he said.

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