• Barrister Zafar says poll watchdog is ‘record-keeper’, has no power to revoke electoral symbol
• ECP lawyer rejects assertion; claims intra-party elections were ‘pre-decided’

PESHAWAR: A PTI counsel on Tues­day argued before a Peshawar High Court bench that the Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan overstepped its jurisdiction by stripping the party of its electoral symbol ‘bat’ and nullifying its intra-party polls.

“Without the election symbol ‘bat’ the party will turn almost dormant and it cannot even field candidates on 227 seats reserved for women and non-Muslims across the country,” argued the PTI lead counsel Barrister Syed Ali Zafar before the bench consisting of Justice Ijaz Anwar and Justice Syed Arshad Ali.

After marathon arguments advanced by lawyers representing the PTI and the ECP for almost five hours, the bench adjo­u­rned the hearing till Wednesday morning.

During the hearing, Barrister Ali Zafar stated that the ECP, through the impugned order, had declared the PTI intra-party polls as void and deprived it of its election symbol ‘bat’.

He argued that the ECP had no jurisdiction to decide whether the intra-party elections, held on its direction on Dec 2, were according to the party’s constitution or not. He argued that the ECP was like a ‘record-keeper’ and had no power to declare intra-party polls void.

Barrister Zafar contended that the only objection raised by the ECP against the intra-party polls was that the appointment of the party’s chief election commissioner was not in accordance with the mechanism provided in the party’s constitution.

He argued that as per Section 208 (5)of the Elections Act, 2017 if a political party failed to conduct intra-party polls within the given timeframe in their constitution, a show-cause notice should be issued, and if the party fails to comply with the directions of the ECP, then the commission should impose a fine which may extend to Rs200,000 but not less than Rs100,000. He argued that in no case the ECP could declare the intra-party elections of a political party illegal.

Barrister Zafar claimed that none of the petitioners before the ECP, who had challenged the intra-party polls, were members of the PTI and added that they had no legal position to challenge the party’s polls. “By stripping the party of its election symbol the ECP tried to oust it from the election fray,” he argued.

When the bench questioned why he had been insisting on getting ‘bat’ as its election symbol, he replied that the PTI had contested previous polls under the same symbol and masses were attached to it.

PTI Barrister Gohar Ali also requested the bench to decide the matter on Tuesday as the returning officers would allot symbols on Jan 13.

Intra-party polls ‘pre-decided’

ECP’s counsel Sikander Bashir Mohmand argued that the commission was a constitutional body which had been deriving its powers from different constitutional provisions.

He argued that the petition was not maintainable before the high court as this court could not issue an order affecting the entire country.

He argued that everything was pre-decided in the intra-party polls of the party and no one was allowed to take part in it except those who were elected unopposed.

Dispelling the impression that the ECP had targeted only a single party, he that cases of 19 political parties regarding their intra-party polls had still been pending before the commission.

He also pointed out that the plea of the PTI was also pending before the Supreme Court and the same could not be adjudicated simultaneously before the high court.

“The commission has given several relaxations to the petitioners to hold proper intra-party polls and has lastly on Nov 23 given them 20-day time for that purpose,” Mr Sikander pointed out adding that the PTI failed to do so.

He stated that the ECP role was not of a ‘record-keeper’ as the petitioner had said, but had wide powers under the Co­n­stitution as well as the Elections Act.

It may be noted that PTI leader Barrister Gohar Ali and six other leaders had filed a joint petition requesting the court to declare the Dec 22 verdict of the ECP as illegal and without jurisdiction.

The case has seen several twists since Dec 22. A single-member bench of Justice Kamran Hayat Miankhel had granted interim relief to the PTI and suspended the ECP’s impugned order. However, that relief proved short-lived as another single-member bench of Justice Muhammad Ijaz Khan had vacated the said stay order over the review plea of the commission on Jan 3.

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2024

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