Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa on Monday directed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawyer Latif Khosa to refrain from allegations against a constitutional body unless he can provide proof to substantiate his claims.
Heading a three-member bench hearing the PTI’s petition seeking contempt charges against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for alleged violation of court orders to ensure a “level playing field” in the Feb. 8 polls, the CJP adjourned the hearing until Jan. 15 after directing the PTI to submit documentary proof of its allegations. The bench also fixed the PTI’s plea for the restoration of its electoral symbol for hearing on Jan. 11 (Wednesday).
During the hearing, PTI lawyers Khosa and Shoaib Shaheen came to the rostrum, with the Punjab advocate general informing the court that the Punjab chief secretary had submitted a report in connection with its directives. The CJP then directed the PTI lawyers to explain what was wrong in the report. “It is based on a total travesty of facts,” said Khosa. Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar then pointed out that the report said 1,195 nomination papers were filed by the PTI, while the CJP said the PTI needed to submit complaints in writing if it disagreed with the report.
Reading from the ECP report, Justice Mazhar said the data showed 76 percent of PTI’s nomination papers were accepted. He observed that the PTI had said it had appealed the rejected nomination before Appellate Tribunals, with a majority accepted for hearing. “What do you want?” the CJP asked. “Please tell us what you want to do. If you do not trust any institution—tell us the reasons so we can issue an order,” he said.
Khosa these asserted that the PTI was solely barred from campaigning for polls. To this, the CJP reiterated that the lawyer was making sweeping allegations and rebuked the lawyer for repeatedly interrupting judges while they were speaking. “You don’t refer to a single bit of law; you don’t refer to a single fact. You just throw names. This is not the way. If there is genuine anxiety, we will address it. If it is just to be used as a political forum, then there are other forums for you to use,” he remarked.
The PTI lawyer claimed PTI candidates were detained under public order laws and roughed up, adding the party was not granted a level playing field. “Are you a candidate yourself?” asked CJP Isa to which Khosa responded in the positive. “You are standing before us … let’s leave the dramatics out and focus on facts,” the top judge said.
At this point, Khosa lamented the party’s plea seeking restoration of its bat symbol had not yet been fixed for hearing, with the CJP assuring him it would be heard. Justice Isa then asked the PTI lawyer if he wanted elections to take place or not. “A hundred percent we want elections,” said Khosa.
“If we are perpetually detracting the ECP, hauling them before the courts, how will they ever conduct the election? This is not their job. Their job is to conduct elections,” he said and urged Khosa to “value” institutions such as the ECP, which were constituted by Parliament.
Khosa then argued that the court should issue orders allowing the PTI to conduct its election campaign within the parameters of law. He said Section 144 and public order laws were imposed to harass the party. The CJP noted Section 144 applied to all, not just one party. He also observed that any candidates detained under public order laws could approach the courts for relief. He then questioned what this had to with the ECP, as it was not responsible for arresting anyone.
“You want us to take over the ECP? Is it our constitutional mandate to take over the functions of the ECP? … To the extent the ECP is not doing something in accordance with the Constitution or the law, we can look into it. But we are not the ECP,” CJP Isa remarked. “This point was made very clear to you when elections came before us that we will not settle the date of elections, which is the president or the commission’s [prerogative]. If you say someone’s papers have been snatched or rejected, then what we are doing in law is assuming the duties of the ECP, which is not our job,” he said.
“Do not make any allegations against a constitutional body unless you can back it up with proof,” he observed.
At this point, Shaheen urged the apex court to fix the plea for the PTI’s electoral symbol, as the Peshawar High Court (PHC) was to hear the case on Tuesday. At this point, the court summoned the counsel in the case, Hamid Khan, and asked him what date he would prefer. “The highest number of petitions are coming from the PTI right now, and are also being heard,” he observed, before fixing the plea for the restoration of the electoral symbol for Jan. 11 (Wednesday).
A day earlier, the ECP submitted a response to the apex court, informing it that 76 percent of nomination papers filed by PTI candidates for the upcoming general elections had been accepted, negating the impression the party was facing a lack of a level playing field. It said 598 of 843 nomination papers of PTI candidates for the National Assembly were accepted, while 1,398 of 1,777 candidatures for provincial assemblies were also accepted.
It said the petitioner had failed to prove the ECP had defied court orders to ensure a level playing field. “The commission has taken all possible steps to comply with the order of the court dated Dec. 22 … therefore no contempt of this court is established as contemplated under Article 204 of the Constitution, the contempt petition ex-facie is not maintainable,” it said.