Ever since the ECP verdict in the PTI prohibited funding case, the political climate has changed to a large extent. After the Punjab by-polls and the consequent Supreme Court verdict in the Punjab...
Ever since the ECP verdict in the PTI prohibited funding case, the political climate has changed to a large extent. After the Punjab by-polls and the consequent Supreme Court verdict in the Punjab chief minister election, the coalition government was on the defensive while the PTI had the upper hand. Now the tables have turned as the coalition government has decided to ‘set an example’ – some have called it ‘settling scores’ – by taking action against the PTI and Imran Khan. The ECP verdict had given the federal government the opportunity to take the case forward to the courts for possible dissolution of the PTI. The federal government has now decided to do this by sending a declaration against the PTI to the Supreme Court, while also directing the FIA to probe the party’s funding. Meanwhile, PML-N leader Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha has separately submitted a reference against Imran to the ECP under Article 63, to be read along with Article 62-1-F – related to the disqualification of the PTI chairman. With this, the matter is now back in the courts.
The PTI on its part is insisting the ECP has given a biased verdict because the commission and the CEC are both anti-PTI. The party is sticking to its demand for the removal of the CEC, but withdrew the judicial reference it had filed in the JCP on Thursday, saying it will be adding more legal arguments and then refile. During a video talk to his party supporters protesting the ECP verdict, Imran Khan pretty much laid out the PTI’s case regarding funding: that the party has been raising funds legally, did not know about the charges against Arif Naqvi when he sent the money, and that overseas Pakistanis cannot be considered ‘foreign funding’. While – like all its other rhetoric – the PTI’s prohibited/foreign funding narrative will no doubt be lapped up by its supporters, there is a glaring chink in its armour after the ECP verdict. It is tough to discredit a journalist such as Simon Clark and his four-year-long investigation into the Wootton Cricket Club and Abraaj’s funds to the PTI. The party has clearly been found guilty of, if nothing else, at least shady funding sources. Blaming the accountant won’t get the party out of this sticky mess, no matter how many ways it tries to distinguish an affidavit from a certificate.
And this is what the coalition government will be banking on. The debate now – and most probably in the courts soon – is whether banning the PTI as a party is the way to go. Legal observers have been pointing out the futility and lack of wisdom of such bans, citing the 1970s ban on the National Awami Party. First, the party can easily return under a new name. Second, the precedent it sets is dangerous for every other political party as well. The same reasoning can be applied when it comes to the government seeking Imran Khan’s disqualification under Article 62-1-F. When the PTI celebrated Nawaz Sharif’s lifetime disqualification on a mere technicality – that of an undeclared salary – many had warned that this precedent could also be used against its own leadership in the future. Now the expected chickens have come home to roost. Being disqualified for life is a credible threat for Imran Khan, something even the PTI may finally be privately worried about despite its public bravado. It is time for all political parties to take a step back and understand that using constitutional provisions such as the ‘sadiq and ameen’ condition does little to help democracy – and their own political fortunes. Instead of fighting their battles in the courts, they should all sit together in parliament and decide once and for all to de-weaponize these constitutional loopholes so that no undemocratic forces can take advantage. At the end of the day, the ballot box – and not a court of law – should be giving the ultimate verdict. This may be lost on all political actors though, who in the frenzy to become the new blue-eyed darlings of the system seem to have forgotten even recent history.