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Why intra-party polls are not a routine matter for PTI

November 29, 2023

ISLAMABAD: The senior leadership of the PTI, including legal and constitutional experts, are trying to resolve the matter of holding intra-party elections as per the ECP’s orders, given the tricky question of incarcerated party chairman Imran Khan’s participation in the upcoming party polls.

A senior party leader told The News that the party is “yet to reach a conclusion regarding our chairman and vice-chairman [Shah Mehmood Qureshi] contesting the party polls. But we are geared up to cross this hurdle of intra-party polls to qualify for our [election] symbol -- [the] bat”. The party leader also conceded that with the party chairman not readily available for guidance and with several senior party leaders behind bars or in hiding, the intra-party polls are not just complicated but also pose legal intricacies.

PTI workers can be seen during a party gathering in KP on November 26, 2023. — Facebook/PTI Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
PTI workers can be seen during a party gathering in KP on November 26, 2023. — Facebook/PTI Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Meanwhile, the PTI’s Central Media Department has -- after detailed consultations -- issued a statement and strongly denied ‘speculations’ regarding Imran's participation in the proposed internal electoral process and the timing of the exercise.

A senior party leader has also denied the claim that the party’s top leader will not participate as chairman in the intra-party elections to be held on the orders of the ECP, as announced on November 23, wherein the commission declared the PTI’s intra-party polls as null and void, and gave the party 20 days to do the needful or be ready to lose the ‘bat’ as its poll symbol. The PTI has 14 days left before the ECP’s deadline expires.

According to the ECP order, “in case, the respondent party fail[s] to comply with [the] direction of the commission and fail[s] to hold its intra-party election within the prescribed 20 days which will run from today (Thursday), the date on which this order is announced, in such eventuality the respondent will suffer the penal consequences of Section 215(5) of Elections Act, 2017 accordingly and would be ineligible to obtain an election symbol for election to Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) etc†.

Under Section 215(5) of the Elections Act, 2017, “If a political party or parties to whom show cause notice has been issued under sub-section (4) fails to comply with the provision of section 209 or section 210, the Commission may after affording it or them an opportunity of being heard, declare it or them ineligible to obtain an election symbol for election to Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), Provincial Assembly or a local government, and the Commission shall not allocate an election symbol to such political party or combination of political parties in subsequent elections.” Sections 209 and 210 of the Elections Act, 2017 provide for documents to be submitted to the ECP regarding intra-party elections and a party’s source of funding.

The ECP had in its order also said that the tenure of not only the National Council of the PTI but all other organizations formed under the party’s constitution was over on 13-06-2021 [June 13, 2021] and that thereafter neither the said tenure of the organization was extended nor any fresh organization with the name of [the] National Council was constituted in accordance with the provision of Section 208(3) of the Election Act 2017.

During a party meeting of the PTI, these and other important issues related to holding intra-party elections were discussed; deliberations will continue today and may continue further for more days, if no final decisions are made.

A PTI spokesperson maintains that: “No decision has been taken to withdraw Chairman Imran Khan from the elections or nominate any other leader in his place. As soon as the leadership reaches a conclusion on all important issues including the conduct of intra-party elections, date and procedure and determination of candidates, it will be formally released”.

Intra-party polls in the PTI have always been mired in controversy. For instance, in 2013, an intra-party poll exercise had triggered massive criticism from within the party’s rank and file, leaving Imran Khan with no option but to form a two-member tribunal headed by Justice (r) Wajihuddin Ahmad, a party member at the time who later on resigned from the PTI, and Yousaf Gabol. After weeks of looking into multiple petitions filed against those intra-party elections, the tribunal released its report, which traced intrigue, misuse of funds and factionalism within the PTI. Senior party leader Hamid Khan was the chief election commissioner of the PTI at the time.

Then, in 2015, former interior secretary Tasneem Noorani was made chief election commissioner of the party. However, he stepped down in 2016 over differences with the party leadership in relation to the modus operandi of the PTI’s intra-party elections. After that, PTI Senator Nauman Wazir Khattak was appointed chief election commissioner and under him, a new related setup was put in place the same year. Jamal Ansari too has resigned as chief election commissioner of the party following the May 9 incidents.

This saga of controversies continues even today and is reflected in the ECP’s order, which highlights that the party’s National Council and the entire organizational setup under it, had completed its tenure in June 2021. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior party member admits that: “There is complete void as far as the party’s organizational setup, especially in provinces is concerned and as well as the electoral college is concerned”.

The News tried to get through to PTI Secretary General Omar Ayub and senior party leader Senator Ali Zafar for their opinion on this matter, but they did not respond to the WhatsApp messages sent to them.

Founding member of the PTI Akbar S Babar too has issued a statement on the PTI’s intra-party elections. Quoting media reports regarding the PTI’s intra-party elections and how reportedly Imran Khan will remain the party chairman unopposed, he said that “It’s like a man came running and joined the jamaat. At the end of the prayer, he said to his companion: thankfully, I did not waste time in ablution, otherwise I would have missed the congregation”. Per Babar, on the one hand, they [the PTI] claim that Imran Khan is the most popular leader, while on the other they are afraid of PTI workers and are unable to give them a chance to choose their leadership through transparent elections, adding that “Those asking for a level playing field from others refuse to give their workers a level playing field.”