• ECP deems PTI intra-party polls ‘unconstitutional’, revokes electoral symbol; party vows to challenge decision
• Candidates may now have to contest as independents, won’t be able to join their party unless ECP re-lists it
• Decision came hours after SC, ECP assured party concerns over ‘level playing field’ would be addressed

ISLAMABAD: Despite assurances of being provided a level playing field, it seems the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) will be playing its election innings without its signature ‘bat’, as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday deemed its intra-party polls “unconstitutional” and revoked its claim on the iconic electoral symbol.

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

The ECP on Friday voided, for the second time in less than a month, PTI’s internal elections following a first-of-its-kind microscopic examination of the inner workings of a political party and declared it ineligible to obtain an election symbol to contest the upcoming general elections.

“It is held that PTI has not complied with our directions rendered therein order dated 23rd November, 2023 and failed to hold intra-party election in accordance with PTI prevailing Constitution, 2019 and Election Act, 2017, and Election Rules, 2017,” the ECP said in its 11-page order.

Rejecting a certificate and Form-65 filed by erstwhile party chairman Gohar Khan, the commission declared the party ineligible to obtain an election symbol under Section 215 of the Elections Act, 2017.

Party vows to challenge decision

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, maintaining that it would appeal the decision at every forum. It asserted that its candidates would indeed contest the polls with the ‘bat’ symbol, come what may.

PTI’s options

In case a party fails to obtain an election symbol through a judicial intervention, its candidates have to contest for the national and provincial assemblies’ seats as independents. In that case, it would not be possible for them to join the PTI, even after winning the elections, because they can only join a party duly enlisted with the ECP.

In that scenario, they may be susceptible to pressures to join other parties, with no fear of losing their seats under the defection clause.

The only way for the party to get an election symbol is if the superior judiciary declares its intra-party elections valid.

SC calls for level playing field

Earlier in the day, observing that fair elections give legitimacy to the elected government, the Supreme Court had called for the provision of a level playing field for all political parties, including the PTI, to foster healthy electoral competition.

In an order on a petition, filed by Gohar Ali Khan, a three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and comprising Justice Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Athar Minallah, said the ECP plays a crucial role in the democratic process, especially in conducting elections.

“[The] ECP is to ensure that elections are conducted in accordance with democratic principles and that elections are free from undue influence, coercion, and corruption,” the order reads. It stressed that ECP should also ensure that all political parties and candidates have an equal opportunity to participate in the election process.

“It is important to remember that organising free and fair elections is more important than the results itself,” the court observed. The court directed the petitioner or any other person representing any other political party in the electoral process to approach the ECP at 3.00pm for the redressal for their grievance relating to the elections.

ECP assurance

Following the SC order, ECP had assured it would address PTI’s concerns regarding the denial of a level playing field ahead of general elections, promising to replace the district returning officers (DROs), returning officers (ROs) creating hurdles in the way of obtaining and submitting nomination papers.

The assurance was held out to a PTI delegation, which met commission officials on Supreme Court directions.

PTI lawyer Shoaib Shaheen, told reporters after the meeting that the commission had assured them of action against all personnel and police officers who had attempted to impede the process leading up to the general elections or carried out any illegal activity to create obstacles in the smooth functioning of the electoral process.

Mr Shaheen said the commission had assured the party that all the raised complaints will be resolved.

He also expressed hope that the commission will play its role in ensuring free and fair elections.

He said all federal and provincial authorities are 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.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2023

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