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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 707, 4 January 2024

PTI’s Electoral Symbol Saga



The legal decision to once more deny PTI the right to use the ‘bat’ election symbol is controversial.

Shamini Velayutham

What happened?
On 3 January, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) revoked the stay order granted by its single-member bench, restoring the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision to declare Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s(PTI) intra-party polls null and void, and strip it of its election symbol ‘bat’. Judge Muhammad Ijaz Khan granted the ECP’s review request and determined that the PHC’s 26 December 2023 interim judgment was an “ex parte order” because the commission was not given the chance to be heard before it was issued. The PTI was represented by senior attorney Qazi Muhammad Anwar and advocate Naveed Akhtar, while the ECP was represented by Sikander Bashir Mohmand and Mohsin Kamran Siddique. The court further declared that on 9 January, the petitioner’s grievance as stated in the main writ petition would be taken into consideration and ultimately decided by the PHC court. It concluded that the aforementioned temporary injunction amounted to the ultimate remedy award.
 
A brief timeline of events
On 2 December, according to the Business Recorder, the PTI held its intraparty elections, following instructions from the electoral authority. Barrister Gohar Khan, who had been nominated by PTI founder Imran Khan, was chosen as the party’s chairman. However, one of the alleged founding members of PTI, Akbar S Babar, criticized the polls and claimed that the party had implemented a selection procedure designed to remove party workers and hand control over to a limited group of attorneys.

On 22 December, the ECP said that the PTI’s intraparty polls held earlier that month were invalid as they violated the country’s election laws and its regulations. The party lost its election symbol subsequently. Following this, the PTI appealed the ECP’s order in the PHC. On 26 December, the PHC suspended the ECP’s ruling and decided that the PTI could keep its ‘bat’ symbol.
 
On 30 December, the ECP challenged the order in the PHC with a review petition. Legal representatives for the election regulator contended that the court had exceeded its jurisdiction when it halted the commission’s announcement on PTI intra-party polling and removed the bat sign from it.
 
What happened in the court?
Since no action had been taken against the 19 other parties that had not conducted intra-party polls, Qazi Anwar contended that the ECP’s decision to deprive PTI of the ‘bat’ emblem was unlawful. He said that the ECP’s review plea was unsupportable because it had taken advantage of the court’s authority to void the PTI’s most recent intra-party elections and remove its electoral symbol. Meanwhile, Mohmand argued that the PHC’s temporary relief order was having an impact on the ECP’s operations in several cases. He continued by saying that the commission was awaiting resolution in about 19 issues about intra-party polls and the distribution of electoral symbols to political parties, but that the high court’s ruling prevented the commission from moving on.
 
Discrimination against PTI
Statements from various PTI officials and analysts following the series of events have put forth the view that the PTI is being discriminated against. PTI leader Hammad Azhar tweeted that the nomination papers of 700 PTI party candidates in as many as 420 constituencies of national and provincial assemblies have been rejected during the scrutiny process. Zahid Hussain in an opinion in Dawn titled ‘The game is on,’ expressed that the legitimacy of the forthcoming polls has been jeopardized due to the widespread rejection of PTI candidates’ nomination papers. He also wrote on the incident when former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was shoved and hauled into a police van, which proved the continued suppression of PTI leaders.
 
What does it mean for PTI?
The legal decision to once more deny PTI the right to use the ‘bat’ election symbol is controversial. As a result, the party is now in a precarious situation. The story is even more complex by the fact that the Peshawar High Court itself had previously overturned the ECP ruling to deny ‘bat’ and then carried it out again in a review. Due to this, the neutrality of the next general elections is in doubt, and it is disturbing and intolerable how the most popular political party is not given a level playing field. It seems unlikely that the PTI’s appeal will be granted, even if its only option would be to reach the Supreme Court.
 
It is not unjustified for Chairman Gohar Ali and other candidates to fear that the party won’t be able to run for the elections together and under the same emblem. If this is the case, PTI candidates might be compelled to run independently and without party identity. This could also foster defections. The party will be under pressure and in disarray at the same time. The election body is already giving PTI candidates excessive scrutiny, which makes the election a lopsided and undemocratic one. To provide everyone an equal chance of success, the constitutional body must act wisely.
 
References
“PTI loses legal battle for bat,” The Nation, 4 January 2024;
Waseem Ahmad Shah, “Pendulum of favour swings away from PTI,” Dawn, 3 January 2024;
Waseem Ahmad Shah, “Court overstepped jurisdiction in ‘bat’ case: ECP lawyer,”  Dawn, 3 January 2024;
Zahid Hussain, ‘The game is on’ Dawn, 3 January 2024;
“PHC restores ECP’s decision on PTI internal polls,” The Express Tribune, 3 January 2024;
Amna Ali, ‘PTI stripped of iconic ‘Bat’ The Express Tribune, 22 December;
"PTI retains ‘bat’ symbol as PHC suspends ECP’s revocation," The Business Recorder, 26 December 2023;
Sardar Sikander Shaheen, “ECP decides against letting PTI retain ‘bat’ symbol,” The Business Recorder, 23 December

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