Friday June 21, 2024

PTI to contest election with 'bat' as PHC restores symbol

Earlier today, PTI had withdrawn its SC plea on a similar case in hopes of a 'favourable' verdict by PHC

By Daniyal Aziz & Maryam Nawaz
January 10, 2024
Man selling keychains of PTI party symbol bat in Lahore. — Online/File
Man selling keychains of PTI party symbol 'bat' in Lahore. — Online/File

ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR: In a major legal victory for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Wednesday reinstated the "bat" symbol for the party and declared the "null and void" the Election Commission of Pakistan's (ECP) order that had deprived the party of its traditional electoral symbol.

The verdict was announced after PHC had reserved its decision, earlier today, after hearing all parties on PTI's petition challenging the ECP decision that had declared the intra-party election as null and void and revoked their electoral symbol "bat".

In its decision, the court termed the ECP's decision "incorrect".

Following the verdict, the court ordered the electoral watchdog to issue a certificate to the PTI and declared its decision that stripped the party of its symbol "null and void".

“PTI is a political party entitled to an election symbol,” the court said.

The hearing of the case was conducted by a two-member PHC bench comprising Justice Ijaz Anwar and Justice Arshad Ali.

The judges, a day earlier, heard arguments presented by lawyers of the ECP and the PTI.

In today's hearing, the court heard other parties in the case.

No one can stop PTI now: Ali Zafar

Speaking to the media outside the PHC after the announcement of the verdict, PTI counsel Barrister Ali Zafar said: “Now, no one can stop PTI from winning these elections.”

Hailing the decision, the PTI senator said PHC kept its tradition of announcing decisions as per law.

“Court has ordered to restore PTI’s bat symbol and upload intra-party polls results on its website immediately,” he added.

The court has annulled the decision to take away PTI’s electoral symbol. “It was a conspiracy against the PTI to deprive it of bat symbol,” said Barrister Zafar.

Today's hearing

At the outset of the hearing, one of the petitioner’s lawyer Advocate Qazi Jawwad said that his client sought information from the PTI’s head office regarding intra-party polls, but did not get any response.

However, he said he learned about the PTI’s polls through media.

“My client wanted to participate in the elections but was not given the opportunity,” the counsel said adding that his client requested that the polls be declared “null and void”.

Justice Anwar remarked: “You did not say that the intra-party elections should be held again. If the Election Commission annulled the intra-party elections, you should have called for re-elections.”

The judger further told the lawyer that his client should have objected to withdrawal of the party symbol if he belonged to the party, but he didn’t do so.

The lawyer also objected to the PHC hearing the case citing its provincial jurisdiction as a limitation, as PTI’s intra-party elections were conducted for the whole country and not just Peshawar.

Justice Arshad questioned the lawyer how can a case not be filed in Peshawar, if the polls were held in the city.

Justice Ijaz remarked that the PTI’s intra-party polls were held in Peshawar, which were annulled by the ECP. “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,” the lawyer replied.

“The Lahore High Court said that let the Peshawar High Court decide,” Justice Ijaz remarked.

Commenting on the matter of the electoral symbol, Justice Arshad asked: “Can a political party contest election without electoral symbol?”

The lawyer responded that a similar instance happened in 1985.

“At that time there was martial law,” Justice Arshad remarked, responding to which the lawyer said everything was done in a legal framework.

Lawyer Tariq Afridi, who was representing one of the parties’ in the case, argued about the jurisdiction of the court.

But the court told him he could argue on that if he has any other points to raise, as the lawyer before him also argued on the same matter.

The counsel then began arguing on the bat symbol and said that it was not the party’s symbol before its formation.

He also spoke about the party being a “favourite” since its launch and continue to be one till date.

He added that a level playing field should be given to party workers too. The lawyer also argued that his client believes symbols being changed is not a big deal.

Addressing one of the petitioners, Justice Arshad asked under which section has the ECP taken action against the PTI.

The lawyer responded saying that the proceedings are carried under Section 215 of the Election Act.

The court remarked that the election result is submitted within seven days.

“The Election Commission should have observed that intra-party elections were held under Section 208,” the lawyer said.

PTI lawyer Barrister Ali Zafar, in response, submitted that the petitioner’s complaint is based on bad faith.

“The complainant wants to end the party, not re-election,” he said.

The lawyer also argued on the jurisdiction of the petition and said that the ECP’s decision can challenged anywhere.

Meanwhile during his concluding argument, the ECP counsel Sikandar Bashir Mohmand said PTI wants the symbol after conducting illegal intra-party elections.

Justice Arshad remarked that intra-party elections are held under Section 208 of the Election Act and questioned the ECP lawyer about how the party symbol was withdrawn under subsection 209 of the Election Act, 2015.

The counsel, in response to the judge, said: “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.”

“The PTI considers the Election Commission as a record keeper. It is a regulatory body that can oversee intra-party elections,” he added.

The ECP counsel further argued that Section 209 states that the party chairman's Form 65 is an affidavit stating that the party elections were held under the party's constitution. “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 added that the parties only ask for the symbol again after the release of the election schedule, after which the symbols are allotted.

“Electoral symbols will be allotted tomorrow and the day after,” the ECP lawyer told the court.

After which, he added, the political party has nothing to do with the symbol.

The court asked him about the procedure for when a new party is registered.

'PHC will issue verdict in party's favour'

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Wednesday withdrew its petition seeking to secure the "bat" symbol for its party to contest the upcoming general elections on February 8.

The development was announced by the party's lawyer and leader Barrister Gohar Khan who, during an interaction with journalists outside the apex court in Islamabad, said the party has withdrawn its plea with regard to the aforementioned matter and hopes that the Peshawar High Court (PHC) will issue a verdict favouring their party.

"Today, our petition was fixed at the Supreme Court, but we have withdrawn it," the PTI counsel said, adding that the decision from PHC will be issued in the party's favour.

Gohar said that the PHC verdict is expected to be announced anytime today and hoped that the decision will be in his party's favour.

The SC, too, dismissed the PTI’s plea on grounds of withdrawal. PTI lawyer Gohar Khan appeared at the court to inform the Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa about withdrawing the petition.

“PTI is withdrawing its request,” he said, addressing CJP Isa.

The chief justice, however, enquired him about Hamid Khan, a senior lawyer and leader of the Imran Khan-founded party.

“Our case is currently in Peshawar High Court,” Hamid said and told the court that he is not the party’s lawyer in the case.

The court while dismissing the petition stated that none of PTI’s lawyers have objected to the withdrawal of the petition.

In a major blow to the PTI, the electoral watchdog had last month stripped it of its iconic electoral symbol and declared its intra-party elections unlawful in the decision over a former PTI member, Akbar S Babar's petition, claiming that the party did not stage the elections in line with the rules.

The party challenged the decision and subsequently acquired a stay against the ECP order, in a major relief that saw the restoration of the party's bat symbol — till a final decision on the petition.

The court served ECP a notice and directed the body to upload certificates containing PTI intra-party elections on its website, while scheduling the hearing of the petition by double bench for today (January 9).

However, the election watchdog on December 30 filed a review petition in the high court, upon which the court restored the ECP’s December 22 order and withdrew the interim relief granted to the PTI.

This prompted the party to move the Supreme Court against the restoration of the ECP ruling, the plea that the party withdrew today.