The PTI cried foul on Saturday amid widespread rejections of its candidates’ nomination papers — including that of its incarcerated founder Imran Khan — for the upcoming general elections as the final day of the scrutiny phase lapsed.

PTI Chairman Barrister Gohar had previously said that Imran would contest the upcoming polls from three constituencies of Lahore, Mianwali and Islamabad.

The returning officer (RO) of Lahore’s NA-122 constituency rejected Imran’s nomination papers, with fellow party leader Khurram Sher Zaman claiming that his candidature in Mianwali and Islamabad had also met the same fate.

A detailed order from Lahore’s NA-122 RO Muhammad Iqbal stated that objections to Imran’s nomination from the constituency were raised by former PML-N MPA Mian Naseer Ahmed on a trio of grounds: Imran’s proposer was not a voter from NA-122, Imran is a convict on the allegation of dishonesty and his conviction still stands whereby he has also been disqualified by the ECP for five years, and lastly due to the fact that the Adiala Jail superintendent, where Imran is currently incarcerated, did not attest to the PTI chief’s nomination form.

Imran was convicted in the Toshakhana case on August 5 after being found guilty of “corrupt practices”, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. He was subsequently disqualified by the ECP for five years. On August 28, the Islamabad High Court had suspended his sentence.

The RO said that after considering the arguments from both sides, Imran’s proposer was indeed found to not be a voter of the constituency and this was a “substantial defect which cannot be remedied”.

The RO further said that the court’s verdict in Imran’s conviction established that it was related to the offence of moral turpitude and, hence, the PTI chief was subject to Article 63(1)(h) of the Constitution.

The law states: “A person shall be disqualified from being elected or chosen as, and from being, a member of the Parliament if he has been, on conviction for any offence involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.”

The RO noted that the conviction was still not yet set aside or suspended and the ECP disqualification also remained in effect.

He argued that in light of the above, the objector’s arguments were “legal and substantial in nature” and had succeeded in making a case against Imran, thus, his nomination papers from NA-122 stood rejected.

Apart from Imran, a number of other senior PTI leaders’ nomination papers were also reportedly rejected, with the party alleging widespread misconduct by ROs towards its candidates and their proposers.

Senior PTI leader and former National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser said: “Today, the nomination papers of all the senior leaders of PTI, including me, were rejected. These are just tricks to make Nawaz Sharif the prime minister.”

He said the party would challenge the rejections in the courts.

“Up and down the country, state machinery is in full swing against PTI’s candidates whose proposers and seconders or they themselves are being openly harassed, assaulted and pushed back from ROs’ offices,” Barrister Gohar said.

He termed the events the “worst kind of misuse of authority and abuse of process” and the “flagrant failure of ECP in performance of its constitutional duties”.

PTI Secretary General Omar Ayub condemned what he said was the “politically motivated rejection of nomination papers” for Murad Saeed, Sahibzada Sighbatullah, Dr Amjad Khan, Fazal Hakim Khan, Mian Sharafat and Salim ur Rahman.

He said such “pre-poll rigging” would cast the transparency of the upcoming polls into question.

“With the way state apparatus, led by a disgraceful ECP and CEC (chief election commissioner), has first obstructed the submission of papers and then maneuvered to have the nomination papers of PTI candidates rejected on fake and flimsy grounds speaks volumes of the fraudulent elections that we are headed for,” said PTI Information Secretary Raoof Hasan.

Speaking in an interview on Geo News show Naya Pakistan, PTI Senior Vice President Latif Khosa said “not a single” PML-N candidate was rejected while party vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his family, and party president Parvez Elahi, Moonis Elahi and their family’s nomination papers were also rejected.

He added that not just the PTI, but the nominations of Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) President Sardar Akhtar Mengal and Grand Democratic Alliance leaders Fehmida Mirza and Zulfiqar Mirza were also rejected.

He claimed that even if the current rejections were not reversed, the party had covering candidates available in “every constituency”.

“Our freedoms are vanishing,” said PTI Senior Vice President Sher Afzal Marwat.

PTI Punjab President Hammad Azhar said there was a “method to the madness”, alleging that the party’s strongest candidates were targeted during the nomination and scrutiny phase.

PTI leaders Taimur Jhagra and Zulfi Bukhari also claimed that their nomination papers were rejected.

Both the leaders said they would take legal recourse against the rejection.

Meanwhile, with a flurry of posts on its timeline recounting the rejection of various leaders or various instances of disruptions at RO offices, the PTI said that almost 90 per cent of the nominations from its important leaders were rejected.

PTI leader Moonis Elahi alleged that lawyers were also “abducted” along with nomination papers from the Gujrat RO’s office.

Approached by Dawn.com for comment on the allegation, Gujrat District Police Officer Asad Muzaffar said the police had nothing to do with the RO office and were only present there to maintain law and order.

He said the police did not arrest anyone and Elahi was throwing a “false allegation”.

The PTI was not the only one to cry foul as Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar expressed surprise that the final list of candidates from Islamabad was still not released by 6pm.

“This is not an election but a selection.”

Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid also got his nomination rejected from NA-56 and NA-57.

Academic and activist Dr Ammar Ali Jan too said his nomination was rejected.

“We will go to high court and have this decision reversed. The selection process will fail and democracy will prevail.”

Activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir said: “A huge price is being paid by the system for putting the PML-N on the throne of Punjab. Be it the police, the bureaucracy, the election commission or the judiciary, every institution has been made highly controversial and the public’s trust in all of them is eroding.”

Salman Masood, Pakistan’s correspondent for the New York Times, also noted that the PTI’s top tier was affected by a “massive, unprecedented wave of rejections”.

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