LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday reserved its verdict on an intra-court appeal (ICA) challenging the powers of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to withdraw the electoral symbol of a political party.

A two-judge bench, comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi and Justice Sultan Tanvir Ahmad, heard lengthy arguments of the appellant side and the federal government.

At the outset of the hearing, the bench asked Azhar Siddique, the counsel for the appellant, if he had approached the court on behalf of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which lost its symbol following an ECP decision.

The lawyer said he assailed the powers of the ECP, which indirectly dissolved PTI as a political party.

Additional Attorney General Mirza Nasar Ahmad argued that the ECP decision to withdraw the electoral symbol from the PTI was a consequence of not holding intra-party polls.

To a court’s query, he said the withdrawal of election symbol from a political party also impacted voters. However, he said only a political party could contest elections on a common symbol, not individual candidates.

The law officer pointed out that the PTI had challenged the ECP decision before the Peshawar High Court, but did not assail Section 215 of the Election Act, 2017.

Mr Siddique argued that both a party and a candidate had a fundamental right to have an election symbol of choice. He said the ECP decision proved to be detrimental for the PTI in the election.

Justice Najafi asked the appellant’s counsel if the affected party, the PTI, had not challenged the powers of the ECP.

“Pakistan has a democratic system. A political party sans democracy should face the consequences,” the judge observed.

The appellant’s counsel asked the bench to allow the ICA and also set aside a decision by a single bench whereby a writ petition was dismissed.

The appeal said Section 215 of the Elections Act 2017, dealing with eligibility of a party to obtain election symbols, was against the Constitution.

It pleaded that the right to contest the election under a common symbol could not be taken away from the candidates of a political party. It said the ECP, being a constitutional body, was not a court or a tribunal, therefore, any power wrongly assumed by it for taking away fundamental rights was illegal in terms of Article 8 of the Constitution.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2024

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