The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Wednesday restored the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s electoral symbol of a cricket bat, setting the stage for the party to contest Feb. 8 polls with its iconic symbol.
The decision was announced after two days of hearings by a division bench of the PHC during which the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) defended its decision to render the PTI’s intra-party polls as null and void and withdrawal of the electoral symbol. In its ruling, the court said the ECP’s decision was “incorrect,” suspended it, and ordered the electoral watchdog to issue a certificate to the PTI “immediately.”
The ruling also observed that the PTI was “entitled to an election symbol” as a political party.
During today’s hearing, the court also heard from other petitioners—including those claiming to belong to the PTI. Qazi Jawwad, one of the petitioners’ counsel, said his client had sought information from the PTI’s head office regarding intra-party polls, but did not get any response and had only learnt of the elections through media.
“My client wanted to participate in the elections but was not given the opportunity,” he argued, saying this was why his client had requested the polls be declared “null and void” by the ECP.
Justice Ijaz Anwar observed that the petitioner did not seek the fresh conduct of intra-party polls. “If the Election Commission annulled the intra-party elections, you should have called for re-elections,” he remarked, adding the petitioner should have objected to the withdrawal of the party’s symbol if he actually belonged to the party.
The lawyer then also objected to the PHC hearing the case, arguing the PTI’s intra-party elections covered the entire country and the PHC lacked the jurisdiction. Justice Arshad Ali however observed that a case could be filed in Peshawar if polls were also held here.
“The jurisdiction of the high court has been determined in various decisions of the courts. PTI also went to the Lahore High Court, where their petition was rejected,” said the lawyer, with Justice Ijaz observing the LHC ruling had said to let the PHC decide.
On the electoral symbol, Justice Arshad questioned if a political party could contest elections without an electoral symbol. The lawyer responded that a similar instance happened in 1985. “At that time there was martial law,” remarked Justice Arshad, to which the lawyer said it was nonetheless legal.
Another lawyer argued on the bat symbol, stating the PTI had not possessed it at its founding and did not require it to contest polls. He said a level-playing field should be ensured for all party workers.
Justice Arshad then questioned what section of the law the ECP had availed to act against the PTI. The lawyer said proceedings were conducted under Section 215 of the Election Act. “The Election Commission should have observed that intra-party elections were held under Section 208,” the lawyer said.
Responding to the argument, PTI lawyer Ali Zafar argued the petitioners’ complaint was based on bad faith. “The complainant wants to end the party, not re-election,” he said. He also maintained the ECP’s decision could be challenged in any high court.
In his concluding arguments, ECP counsel Sikandar Bashir Mohmand said the PTI wanted its symbol despite conducting illegal intra-party elections. Justice Arshad questioned how if intra-party elections were held under Section 208 of the Election Act, the ECP had revoked the electoral symbol under Section 209. “Under Section 209, it is the job of the Election Commission to not only look at the intra-party election Form 65, but to be satisfied,” replied the lawyer, stressing the PTI considered the ECP a “record keeper,” while it was a regulatory body that can oversee intra-party elections.
“The electoral symbol is held by the party only at the time of the election. For four years after the election, this sign is then held by the Election Commission,” he said, noting each party asked for the symbol afresh ahead of every polls. The bench then reserved its verdict, before announcing it a short while later.
Earlier, PTI Chairman Gohar Khan had announced to media the party had withdrawn a petition against the ECP ruling from the Supreme Court, as the case was already being heard in the PHC.
Speaking with media after the verdict was announced, Zafar said it would be intolerable if the ECP did not certify the PTI’s intra-party results on its website after the PHC ruling. “This would be blatant contempt and neither I, nor the court, nor the public would accept it,” he warned. To a question on the ECP indicating it would appeal the PHC ruling before the Supreme Court, he said this was its right, adding until the matter was resolved, the electoral body would still need to allocate the election symbol to the PTI.