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Tuesday February 27, 2024

News Analysis: PTI’s intra-party polls raise red flags

PTI’s intra-party election could go either way for the party, with electoral and constitutional experts saying that the PTI’s fate as an enlisted party and its election symbol both hang in the balance until the ECP notifies the party’s intra-party poll results

December 03, 2023
PTI founding members Akbar S Babar. — Online/File
PTI founding members Akbar S Babar. — Online/File

KARACHI: The PTI’s intra-party election could go either way for the party, with electoral and constitutional experts saying that the PTI’s fate as an enlisted party and its election symbol both hang in the balance until the ECP notifies the party’s intra-party poll results.

As the PTI’s founding member Akbar S Babar raised objections to the process adopted by the party for its intra-party polls, and with both the PPP and PML-N also calling them a sham, electoral and political observers weighed in on what this could mean for the PTI.

Speaking to a news channel on Saturday, PILDAT President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said that the PTI’s intra-party polls of 2012 and 2013 “had transparency, there were members lists, names of contestants were called for, a programme was announced. Despite objections raised even then, those were well-conducted intra-party polls in our history. But the elections today [Saturday] were conducted without anyone knowing the basics, such as what was the programme, who were the voters, when were contestants asked for their nomination papers, was everyone elected unopposed...these are all questions [that can be raised].”

Saying he did not believe these were “credible polls”, Mehboob said that he suspected “the ECP may not accept [this election]. The PTI had 20 days; these polls could have been organized in a better way. But they did it all in a rush to get their nominee elected -- although whoever Imran Khan would have nominated he/she would have been elected in any case. Which is why doing this in such a hush-hush manner just makes it seem suspect. I’m not sure it will be accepted when it goes to the ECP....The PTI has 400k members: how did they vote? And everyone getting elected unopposed is also an odd thing, an unbelievable situation.”

In a talk with The News, Mehboob adds to his analysis, by first clarifying that “many other parties had also been holding similar elections -- such as the PPP in 2021 and the PML-N in June 2023 without any scrutiny by the ECP.” For him, as far as the PTI is concerned, “the only possible and adverse consequence is that the ECP again refuses to accept the election as lawful, leading to the de-enlistment of the party which also means no single election symbol for the PTI. If this happens, it will be a huge setback for the party”.

According to Mehboob, it is possible that “even if Akbar S Babar doesn’t challenge the intra-party election, the ECP can raise objections when election results are submitted to it within seven days of election as per the law. The ECP will notify the intra-party election result only if it finds them acceptable. If and as long as ECP doesn’t notify the new results, the fate of the PTI standing as an enlisted party and its election symbol will hang in the balance”.

Taking a somewhat different view of the matter, former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad tells The News that the ECP “cannot take notice of the intra-party polls on its own unless someone within the party raises objections.” Explaining the history of this issue, he says the ECP had been writing to the PTI consistently, reminding the party that its internal elections were due. The party, says Dilshad, kept delaying its intra-party election till the ECP gave it a 20-day deadline. On what Akbar S Babar’s objections can do to these polls, Dilshad feels that the matter could end up in the courts if he raises objections. However, he also says that in his opinion “the ECP might just accept the intra-party polls result -- to ensure the [condition of ] a ‘level playing field’. This is purely my own opinion but now that [the PTI] has conducted its intra-party election, I feel the ECP may accept [the result]. Gohar Khan is respected a lot as a lawyer. I think [the ECP] will accept the polls in all likelihood.”

Speaking to Shahzad Iqbal on Geo’s Naya Pakistan on Saturday night, the PTI’s chief election commissioner Niazullah Niazi said that the PTI is the only party that has always conducted its intra-party polls. Saying that the ECP had “forced” the PTI to conduct these elections within 20 days, Niazi added that: “We conducted the election per our constitution, which was amended in 2022. Our Rules have the whole procedure of how to conduct the [intra-party] election. As per the Rules, I nominated the returning officers for the centre and the provinces. I shared their names in the media today as well.”

Niazi said that the process for the intra-party election was clear: “We gave Nov 29 as the date for nomination papers and Dec 1 was the date for the decision regarding nomination papers, the proposers and seconders and any objections to these. Our election is held on a panel system. The ROs got these nomination papers, went through them, and then forwarded them to me according to the Rules.”

When asked about whether the PTI is in danger of not getting its election symbol, Niazi said: “You can see how things are being conducted regarding the PTI. The country can see how efforts are being made to keep one party out of the elections”, adding: “have other parties like the PPP or the PML-N ever conducted their elections this way? They always nominate and then submit to the ECP. No objection is raised on them.”

Responding to Akbar S Babar’s claims, Niazi said that Babar “never approached us. He didn’t even call me. He should have come to me and I would have resolved the objections [he raised]. Standing outside, taking a photo and then going to the media [is what Babar did]. Akbar S Babar was not in any of our verified lists of voting members. He did not give me an application.... All he wanted to do was sabotage our intra-party polls. Someone ask him: did he give any petition/application to [me]? He did not contact anyone, just made a video clip.” As for who was on the voting members list, Niazi also clarified that the PTI’s voter list was made of all members of the party.

Journalist Benazir Shah says that “some of the questions raised by Akbar S Babar are important for the PTI to address in terms of transparency of the polls. These questions are essential to answer also because as of now the PTI is already under intense scrutiny by the ECP and has had one intra-party election rejected”.

Shah says that what could likely happen now is that [Akbar S] Babar “raises his concerns with the ECP first and then takes this matter to the high courts, if the ECP decides in favour of the PTI”. However, all this is also time-bound and the stakes are high for the PTI, says Shah: “If this matter goes to the courts, then the judiciary will have to decide the matter before the third week of December, as that is the likely deadline for candidates to file their nominations papers. Any delay and the PTI could lose its symbol.”