• Top court to hear electoral watchdog’s plea in poll symbol case today
• Party moves PHC for contempt proceedings against chief election commissioner, others

ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR: All eyes are on the Supreme Court as a three judge-bench is set to deliberate on a critical appeal by the Election Commission today, challenging the Peshawar High Court’s decision to restore the PTI’s election symbol.

Simultaneously, the PTI has initiated legal action in the Peshawar High Court, filing a contempt petition against Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and other ECP members for not implementing the high court’s order in the PTI’s intra-party elections case.

The Supreme Court hearing, led by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa and comprising justices Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Musarrat Hilali, holds significant implications for the country’s electoral landscape, particularly as returning officers are scheduled to allocate symbols to candidates tomorrow.

The ECP’s petition, submitted by former attorney general Makhdoom Ali Khan, argued that the Peshawar High Court should not have proceeded with the case without first issuing a notice to the Attorney General for Pakistan.

This procedural step was necessary because the legal question at hand pertained to the federal government, involving the interpretation of Article 17 of the Constitution and its relationship with the provisions of the Elections Act of 2017, it said.

The petition also highlighted that the PHC’s order conflicted with previous Supreme Court rulings, which have consistently discouraged high courts from intervening in the electoral process, which, as per the Constitution, is exclusively within the ECP’s jurisdiction.

The petition emphasised that the high court’s judgement effectively nullified key sections of the Elections Act and Election Rules by restricting the ECP’s constitutional and statutory roles in regulating and supervising intra-party elections of political parties. This interpretation contradicted the principles established in previous superior court rulings, it said.

Furthermore, it undermined the fundamental purpose of Section 215(5) of the Act, in conjunction with Rules 157 and 158, which aim to foster democracy, pluralism, and transparency within political parties by ensuring timely intra-party elections, it added.

Additionally, the PHC ruling disregarded the essence of Section 208(2) of the Elections Act, which is intended to guarantee equal opportunities for all party members to contest elections for any political party office.

It said the high court order not only rendered relevant provisions practically redundant but also enabled a political party to undertake “sham” intra-party elections without any checks and balances. This, the ECP’s petition said, was not only contrary to Article 17 of the Constitution but was also in conflict with the principles of democracy.

The petition also pointed out that the PHC’s order overlooked the fact that the Elections Act was enacted under a democratic government and led to the repeal of various election laws, some of which were established during times of extra-constitutional rule.

Contempt plea against ECP

Meanwhile, the PTI petitioned the Peshawar High Court on Thursday, seeking to initiate contempt proceedings against the chief election commissioner and other ECP members for not implementing the court’s order.

A contempt petition was filed on behalf of the party by senior lawyers Qazi Muhammad Anwar and Shah Faisal Ilyas, requesting the court to punish the respondents in accordance with the law for not complying with the directions and orders passed by the court on Jan 10 (Wednesday).

A two-member bench consisting of Justice Shakeel Ahmad and Justice Wiqar Ahmad will take up the petition for hearing today (Friday).

Setting aside the ECP’s order of Dec 22 of nullifying the PTI’s intra-party polls and revoking its electoral symbol, the PHC had ordered the ECP to publish the certificate of PTI’s intra-party polls on its website.

The court also declared the PTI entitled to get the election symbol strictly in terms of Sections 215 and 217 of the Elections Act of 2017.

In its contempt plea, the PTI has argued that the respondents are fully aware of the PHC’s order and still have not issued a certificate of the PTI on its website, which amounted to contempt of the court.

“Despite clear-cut directions, the respondents are avoiding its compliance just to make hurdles in the way of PTI for the upcoming general elections,” the petition said.

The respondents “disregarded the order of this honourable court and downgraded the authority of this honourable court,” the petition said. “That omission of respondents to act upon the order of this honourable court speaks of the fact that respondents undermined the authority of this honourable court.”

The plea accused the respondents of not “moving an inch” for implementing the PHC order and “wilfully disobeying the same”.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2024

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