• Decides against appealing directly to Supreme Court
• Amends poll schedule after extending scrutiny of nomination papers for reserved seats

ISLAMABAD: After three days of deliberations, the Election Commission decided on Friday to contest the Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) decision to reinstate the PTI’s election symbol.

Sources familiar with the matter told Dawn the ECP initially considered appealing directly to the Supreme Court but ultimately opted for a review petition with the PHC, which is scheduled to revisit the case on Jan 9. The ECP is also on notice to appear before the bench on the date.

The Election Commission has yet to adhere to the PHC’s specific directives, including publishing PTI’s intra-party elections certificate on the ECP’s official website and reinstating the party’s election symbol.

Besides, most returning officers (ROs) have yet to scrutinise the nomination papers of candidates for reserved seats for women and minorities.

Now, the ECP has amended the schedule for the candidates on reserved seats, extending the last date for scrutiny of their nomination papers from Dec 30 to Jan 13, subject to the outcome of the petition pending before the PHC.

Jan 13 is also the last date for allocating election symbols to political parties. Taking away the poll symbol means depriving a party of the reserved seats for women and minorities in the national and provincial assemblies, in addition to other political implications.

The revised schedule sets crucial dates: Jan 16 for filing appeals against the decisions of returning officers, Jan 19 as the deadline for the appellate tribunal’s decisions, Jan 20 for the publication of the revised list of candidates, Jan 22 for the withdrawal of candidature, and Jan 23 for the publication of the list of contesting candidates.

The ECP has also announced significant changes to its judicial appointments. Justice Faisal Zaman Khan of the Lahore High Court (LHC) has been replaced by Justice Farooq Haider as the appellate tribunal for hearing appeals in reserved-seat cases in Punjab.

Furthermore, Justice Mirza Viqas Rauf will now serve as the appellate tribunal judge for hearing appeals against ROs’ decisions in Rawalpindi, Attock, and Murree, succeeding Justice Jawad Hassan.

This legal tussle follows the ECP’s initial verdict, which found PTI ineligible for an election symbol due to non-compliance with the party’s constitution and electoral laws.

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

The PTI denounced this decision as part of a “London Plan”, alleging it was a tactic to prevent their election participation.

Earlier this week, the PHC temporarily suspended the ECP’s decision, recognising the urgency and political ramifications involved.

Justice Kamran Hayat Miankhel announced the verdict shortly after reserving his order on a PTI petition. The court order said that general elections were scheduled for Feb 8 and the last date for allotment of election symbols was Jan 13.

The court also ordered the ECP to publish the PTI’s certificate on the commission’s website and restore the party’s election symbol “keeping in view the urgency, that a political party has been denuded of its symbol, meaning hereby that aspirants from the general public who were willing to vote for the petitioners’ party were divested of their right to vote as per their choice”.

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2023

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