Friday June 21, 2024

ECP not 'fair', running after one party, observes Justice Musarrat Hilali

"Does the Election Commission not see other parties?" she questions during hearing of PTI's plea seeking level-playing field

By Maryam Nawaz
January 15, 2024
Justice Musarrat Hilali. — Supreme Court/Website
Justice Musarrat Hilali. — Supreme Court/Website 

ISLAMABAD: Justice Musarrat Hilali of the Supreme Court Monday raised reservations over the conduct of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in its handling of matters related to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) ahead of the upcoming general elections on February 8.

"The Election Commission is not fair. It is running behind one party," she remarked during the hearing of the PTI's request for withdrawal of its level playing field plea.

Justice Hilali then pointed out whether the electoral body can see any other parties or not. "Does the Election Commission not see other parties?"

The judge's remarks came during a hearing at the SC when the PTI, on Monday, withdrew its petition seeking contempt proceedings against the ECP over its alleged failure to ensure a level playing field ahead of the upcoming elections.

A three-member bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Hilali hard the plea. 

PTI moved the apex court on December 26 last year with the plea. However, the top court today disposed of the plea after the withdrawal of the petition.

During the hearing today, PTI lawyer Latif Khosa told CJP Isa that his party will approach the "people's court" in this matter.

"We do not want to fight this case in your [Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa's] court. Thank you very much," said Khosa.

He said that the Supreme Court's January 13 verdict — which deprived the former ruling party of its 'bat' symbol — "snatched" 230 seats from the party.

"Do you want to continue this case or not?" asked CJP Isa. At this, Khosa replied that he had been directed to withdraw the plea.

"We came to your court to get a level playing field. The verdict that was announced on January 13 at 11:30pm shattered the PTI," he said, adding that "you snatched PTI's field".

Khosa argued that the ECP can only withdraw the election symbol, however, one of the parties is being banned from the parliament.

"All of the PTI candidates will now contest as independent candidates which will spread confusion."

The PTI lawyer also told the court that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Nazriyati's (PTI-N) leader, with whom they had made a deal, was also "picked up and forced to hold a press conference".

At this, CJP Isa said: "If you don't accept the verdict then there's nothing the [court] can do."

He added that the ECP continuously directed the PTI to conduct intra-party polls but they were still not held.

"You are destroying all the institutions of Pakistan," CJP told Khosa.

The plea

The PTI, in its plea, had lamented the electoral body's failure to implement the top court's directions wherein it had ordered the poll organising authority to address the PTI's concerns about the absence of a level-playing field.

The application refers to the top court's December 22 ruling, in response to the PTI's petition filed under Article 184(3) of the Constitution complaining of being denied equal opportunities in the political arena, where it directed the electoral body to meet with the party's representatives and address its relevant concerns.

The ECP, on December 22, met with a PTI delegation and "assured of a level playing field" in the wake of the February 8 polls. Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and other officials, taking cognisance of the party's concerns, reassured that returning officers (ROs) and police officers who have tried to cause problems for the party "will be replaced soon".

The party contended that the ECP secretary failed to abide by the apex court's verdict as PTI candidates continued to be harassed and arrested even after the top court's ruling.

Seeking action against those responsible for violating the court's order, the party prayed to the court to ensure that its candidates are allowed to hold rallies and political gatherings — as part of a level playing field ahead of the polls slated for February 8.