Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Senator Ali Zafar on Wednesday confirmed that party chief Imran Khan will not contest intra-party polls scheduled for Dec. 2, adding Barrister Gohar Khan has been picked by the former prime minister to serve as ‘caretaker’ chairman until his legal problems are resolved.
The announcement followed a day of back-and-forth between various groups within the PTI who accused each other of misleading the public, adding that there is “no PTI” without Imran Khan. Initially, PTI Senior Vice-President Sher Afzal Marwat had announced that Khan could not participate in the intra-party polls, as he stood disqualified in the Toshakhana case. In response, the PTI’s official social media accounts had claimed it was premature to say Khan was not participating in the polls, as discussions on the matter were ongoing.
This was followed up by another statement from Marwat accusing the official account of giving misleading statements. He also told ARY News on Tuesday night that Khan had picked Gohar Khan as his candidate to take the top slot of the PTI. The controversy continued into Wednesday morning, with Khan’s lawyer Latif Khosa claiming there were no PTI without Imran Khan and he would not step down as chairman of the party.
Addressing a press conference outside the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in Islamabad, Zafar recalled that as Khan was convicted in the Toshakhana case, he was ineligible to contest the intra-party polls. Maintaining a person could not be disqualified for failing to declare Toshakhana gifts, he reiterated that the party considered the ECP’s directive to conduct intra-party polls within 20 days “illegal,” adding it appeared to be an attempt to deny the party the “bat” as its electoral symbol.
Claiming Khan had told him he did not want to give the ECP any “excuse” to deny the party its electoral symbol in the upcoming general elections, he said the PTI chief had decided to appoint Gohar as “caretaker” chairman. “The public is with us. We will win the elections when they happen. I want to take part in the general election. Intra-party polls hold no meaning for me. I want that the Toshkahana case is decided as soon as possible. When it is decided, I will contest intra-party polls as chairman,” Zafar quoted Khan as saying.
To a query on why seasoned politicians had been ignored for the chairman slot, Zafar said they all had “permanent” positions within the party that could be impacted. “It would not be appropriate to give them a temporary position. That is why we need someone who is not controversial and can play a role in this caretaker mode, this temporary arrangement,” he said, announcing Gohar as the nominee.
“With his nomination, you will realize that this is not a minus-one formula, that this is not a coup. He is Imran Khan sahib’s own nominee and is appropriate for the temporary arrangement we are doing,” he added. “PTI is Imran Khan and Imran Khan is PTI. PTI is nothing without Imran Khan. It doesn’t matter if you’re the chairman on paper. The leader, and the continuous leader, is Imran Khan,” he stressed.
In a brief statement, Gohar said he was “speechless,” and thanked Khan for reposing this trust in him. “I will serve in this role until Imran Khan is able to return to resume the top leadership,” he said, adding he hoped it would be “soon.”
Last week, the ECP rubbished the PTI’s previous intra-party elections and directed the party to conduct intra-party polls within 20 days—and inform it of the results within 7 days—or risk losing its electoral symbol.