• ECP lawyer tells SC PTI held intra-party polls in a ‘secretive’ manner
• Party counsel says ‘extraordinary’ situation prevented intra-party polls from being held in big cities
• ‘No doubt’ party members facing hardship, CJP observes • PHC puts ECP chief on notice in contempt plea

ISLAMABAD / PESHAWAR: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa on Friday observed that every citizen has a fundamental right to vote for a political party of his choice and likewise every member of any political party enjoys the same right — a right if snatched would mean dictatorship.

“Democracy is a fundamental right, which should be practised both in the country as well as the political party,” the CJP observed while heading a three-judge Supreme Court bench that had taken up a hurriedly-moved appeal by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) challenging the Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) decision to restore the PTI’s election symbol — bat.

Separately, the PHC issued notices to the chief election commissioner and other ECP members seeking replies to a contempt petition that PTI had filed against them for not implementing the high court’s order in the intra-party polls case.

CJP Isa while pointing towards senior counsel Makhdoom Ali Khan, who represented ECP, wondered whether the poll watchdog was discriminating against PTI by overseeing its intra-party polls and whether the same treatment had been meted out to other political parties or not. “We are only concerned whether the commission was guilty of pick and choose or not,” the CJP said.

The counsel denied PTI was being discriminated against, adding the ECP had delisted 13 other political parties as well. He contended that ECP was only interested to see whether the intra-party elections conducted by PTI were done in a fair and transparent manner which, according to the commission, were not.

Mr Makhdoom contended that PTI had held the intra-party polls in a secretive manner and they were not conducted in accordance with its own constitution.

Besides, all office-bearers had been elected unopposed and declared successful by election commissioner Niazullah Khan Niazi with his signature though all the six provincial election commissioners should have also affixed their signatures on the election results, he added.

The court wondered why the intra-party elections were held at a cricket ground in the Chamkani area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and how the members had been disseminated the information where to gather to vote.

Intra-party polls defended

Senior counsel Hamid Khan, on behalf of PTI, argued that the court should realise the extraordinary situation in which the PTI members were surviving.

He said when party members and workers were being harassed, or picked up, it was not possible to hold the intra-party elections in cities like Islamabad or Lahore.

Mr Niazi informed the court that the party workers and members were communicated about the election through WhatsApp, adding “we also had a video which could be played in court to ascertain how many people participated in the intra-party polls”.

No doubt the party members were facing hardship, the CJP observed, adding that courts will always intervene if they approached the relevant courts against the injustices.

The court postponed the proceedings for Saturday (today), saying the case is time-sensitive with Feb 8 elections round the corner.

Mr Makhdoom contended that ECP had received 14 complaints against PTI’s intra-party polls which were filed by party members.

He contended that Omar Ayub currently held the office of PTI’s secretary general but ECP acknowledges Asad Umar as secretary general, adding that personal statements about quitting the party were presented but there was nothing on record that Mr Umar had quit the office.

Ahmad Hassan, representing Akbar S. Babar, said his client was a founding member of PTI.

“Then why is he not a PTI member,” wondered the CJP and asked Hamid Khan whether Mr Babar was expelled from the party.

But Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar observed that in his view a founding member was never expelled from the party.

Contempt case

In Peshawar, the high court put on notice the chief election commissioner and ECP members seeking their replies to the contempt petition of PTI against them for not implementing the PHC’s order in the intra-party polls case.

A two-member bench consisting of Justice Shakeel Ahmad and Justice Wiqar Ahmad fixed Jan 16 for next hearing of the petition.

Senior lawyers Qazi Muhammad Anwar and Shah Faisal Ilyas requested the bench to punish the respondents for not complying with the directions passed by the court on Jan 10.

They stated that while setting aside the ECP’s Dec 22 order of nullifying the PTI’s intra-party polls and revoking its electoral symbol, the high court had ordered the ECP to publish the certificate of PTI’s polls on its website forthwith.

They said the court had also declared that PTI entitled to get the election symbol ‘bat’ strictly in terms of Sections 215 and 217 of the Elections Act.

Qazi Anwar, who is provincial chief of PTI’s legal wing, Insaf Lawyers Forum, stated that respondents were fully aware of the PHC’s order and yet did not issue a certificate of PTI on its website, which amounted to contempt of the court.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2024

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