Lawyers and supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf wave a cricket bat as they celebrate outside the Peshawar High Court, following a verdict in their favour, on Wednesday.—PPI
Lawyers and supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf wave a cricket bat as they celebrate outside the Peshawar High Court, following a verdict in their favour, on Wednesday.—PPI

• PHC overrules Election Commission order on PTI’s intra-party polls, says party entitled to its symbol
• CEC chairs post-decision huddle; will finalise strategy after briefing from law wing

ISLAMABAD / PESHAWAR: After the Peshawar High Court (PHC) overruled a decision of the election watchdog which denied the PTI its electoral symbol of ‘bat’, the Election Com­mission of Pakistan (ECP) will hold another meeting today (Thursday) to decide whether or not to move the Supreme Court against the order of the high court, which came hardly a month before the general elections slated for Feb 8.

On Wednesday, after another round of ‘bat-and-forth’ in the PHC, the PTI was allowed by the two-member bench to retain its electoral symbol and the decision of the ECP announced on Dec 22 was set aside.

After the PHC ruling, ECP chief Sikandar Sultan Raja chaired a huddle in Islamabad to take stock of the situation in the aftermath of the court decision.

A source said the meeting mulled over its options, but could not reach a final decision about whether or not to approach the top court. Another meeting will be held today (Thur­s­day), where the law wing of the ECP will brief the watchdog, after which a final decision about moving the SC will be made.

A source, however, agr­eed that time was quite short as returning officers are expected to allocate poll symbols to the contesting candidates on January 13.

PTI Chairman Barrister Gohar Khan hailed the PHC verdict as “historic”. Speaking to the media in Rawalpindi, he said that the ‘bat’ was more than just an electoral symbol.

According to Mr Khan, the PHC’s verdict was a crucial step in ensuring free and fair polls. He criticised the ECP, claiming it attempted to thwart the PTI on all fronts, which had resulted in denying the party’s right to retain its symbol and potentially losing 227 reserved seats, reported Dawn.com.

He highlighted the potential consequences, saying that 807 PTI candidates for general seats would have been forced to contest polls as independents, which would have led to corruption. He argued that no constitution permitted the withdrawal of an electoral symbol from any political party and insisted that only the PTI was being targeted.

PTI lead counsel Barrister Syed Ali Zafar told media persons that it would be contempt of the high court if the ECP did not forthwith publish on its website the certificate of PTI’s intra-party polls and allot the party its election symbol.

PHC proceedings

“The ECP is directed to forthwith publish the certificate [of intra-party polls] filed by the petitioner on its website in terms of section 209 of the Elections Act, 2017,” the bench consisting of Justice Ijaz Anwar and Justice Syed Arshad Ali said in a brief order.

According to the court, the PTI was entitled to the election symbol “strictly in terms of sections 215 and 217, read with any other enabling provision of the Elections Act 2017 and Election Rules 2017”.

Following the PHC order, PTI workers were elated, several of whom were wielding cricket bats and raising party slogans on the premises of the high court.

The bench on Wednesday mostly heard arguments advanced by lawyers representing six of the respondents, who had challenged the PTI intra-party polls before the ECP.

Advocate Qazi Jawad Ahsanullah appeared for Yousaf Ali and stated that his client was a former general secretary of the PTI in Swabi who wanted to participate in the polls, but was not provided the opportunity by the party. Qazi Jawad contended that the intra-party polls were for the entire country, whereas the high court’s territorial jurisdiction was limited to this province.

The bench inquired why the matter could not be agitated before this high court when the polls were held in Peshawar and were declared void by the ECP. The counsel put forward different orders of the superior courts about the jurisdiction of a high court, arguing that the high court could only review provincial matters whereas the intra-party polls were held for the entire country.

Justice Ijaz Anwar asked whether the party should have moved all four high courts.

The bench inquired whether the ECP could take action of not allotting a symbol under Section 215 of the Elections Act if the intra-party polls were not held in accordance with Section 208 of the law, as the said action could only be taken due to the violation of Section 209, dealing with the submission of the polls certificate by the political party.

Advocate Mian Azizuddin Kakakhel appeared for Raja Tahir Nawaz and Raja Hamid Zaman, both belonging to Islamabad, whereas advocate Fida Bahadur represented Sardar Niaz Ahmad from Abbottabad. They also supported the ECP’s order stating that the polls were not held in accordance with the law and constitution of the party.

Rebutting their arguments, Barrister Ali Zafar stated: “Neither the Elections Act 2017 nor the Constitution or any other law in the field allows the ECP to nullify the intra-party elections of a political party.”

He argued that the court had the jurisdiction to adjudicate on this issue since the polls were held in Peshawar.

ECP counsel Sikander Bashir Mohmand argued that being a regulator it was the responsibility of the commission to look into the intra-party polls of a party when it submits a certificate under Section 209 of the Elections Act.

He added that if the polls were not held in accordance with the party constitution the ECP could take action under Section 215. He was of the opinion that for every general election, symbols were allotted to a political party and after completion of polls, the symbols do not belong to any particular party.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2024

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