A close up photo of CJP Qazi Faez Isa taken on September 22. —Photo courtesy: @QAU_Official/X

‘Huge blow to fundamental rights’: Lawyers, political experts in disbelief over SC’s decision to strip PTI of its electoral symbol

Asad Rahim calls it an "utterly ludicrous order", while Ammar Ali Jan deems it "not just a defeat for PTI but a defeat for democratic norms in Pakistan".
Published January 14, 2024

Legal eagles and political experts were in disbelief after the Supreme Court on Saturday decided to strip PTI of its iconic election symbol ‘bat’ by reinstating the Election Commission of Pakistan’s decision.

The apex court, a little before midnight, announced the verdict, dealing a huge blow to the embattled party’s hopes of retaining its symbol.

Lawyer Reema Omer said the court’s verdict was “excessive, punitive … and a huge blow to our fundamental rights”.

Another lawyer and himself an election candidate, Jibran Nasir, listed down the major consequences of the Supreme Court decision, and regretted that the verdict would disenfranchise “tens of millions of voters across Pakistan”.

Barrister Asad Rahim Khan was scathing in his criticism of the verdict, saying: “Given the nature of its decisions and the now routine absurdity of its logic, this is probably the shortest time in which the Supreme Court has lost its credibility. An utterly ludicrous order.”

Activist Ammar Ali Jan said the verdict was “not just a defeat for PTI but a defeat for democratic norms in Pakistan”.

Uzair Younis, director of the Atlantic Council’s Pakistan Initiative, said that “there are no winners here. The only loser is Pakistan and its democracy.”

Lawyer Hassan A. Niazi said the verdict sets a “terrible precedent” and “contradicts the court’s own settled jurisprudence in the Benazir Bhutto case on fundamental rights”.

“It is not just the rights of a political party that were at stake but the rights of millions of voters who have now been effectively stripped of exercising their choice in favour of a political party,” he added.

Mirza Moiz Baig, another lawyer, pointed out that the ECP’s decision to strip PTI of its electoral symbol and the Supreme Court affirming the same “appears to be inconsistent with the Elections Act and the Supreme Court’s own judgment in the District Bar Rawalpindi case”.

“Section 208(5) of the Elections Act, for instance, states that where a political party fails to conduct elections within time, such party shall be liable to a fine,” he explained. “Given that the legislature consciously failed to add any more penalties in Section 208, the ECP’s action against PTI seems beyond the mandate of the law. Moreover, Section 215 of the 2017 Act read with Section 209 only obliges a party so submit a certificate affirming that it has conducted intra-party polls according to the law and it’s own constitution.

“Interestingly, prior to the 18th Amendment, Article 17(4) of the Constitution provided that each political party shall be liable to conducting elections. Nonetheless, after the Amendment omitting Article 17(4), the Supreme Court in District Bar Rawalpindi’s case acknowledged that intra-party polls were not a “sina qua non for a democratic set up.”

Michael Kugelman, an analyst and scholar on South Asian affairs, called the development “brazen, not subtle, pre-polls rigging”.