A proscribed organisation in active politics? On why the TLP still contests elections and participates in political activity
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) is a proscribed organisation; but unlike other proscribed organisations, it is unceasingly taking part in nearly all political activities. For instance, more than 200 candidates of the TLP contested local government elections of the cantonment board across Pakistan just recently. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led government formally took the decision to ban the TLP in April 2021 under section 11-B (1) of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997. Moreover, right after placing TLP in the list of proscribed entities, the federal government announced that it would take measures for TLP’s dissolution – still a pending matter.
The TLP came into limelight in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections, campaigning to defend the country’s blasphemy laws. The party also has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands. In the 2018 elections, interestingly, the party managed to win two seats in the Sindh Assembly from Karachi and got a female member elected on a reserved seat of the assembly.
The notification issued by the Federal Government banning the party states that the government has “reasonable grounds to believe that Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan is engaged in terrorism, acted in a manner prejudicial to the peace and security of the country, involved in creating anarchy in the country by intimidating the public, caused grievous bodily harm, hurt and death to the personnel of Law Enforcement Agencies and innocent by-standers”.
Afterwards, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while talking to the media in Sargodha, confirmed that the “government has decided to ban TLP in the larger interest of the public and state”.
11E (a) of the ATA that defines measures to be taken against any banned organisation by the federal government includes actions such as “the closure of offices, if any”.
In the meantime, TLP has participated in almost all by-elections: in the Azad Kashmir elections held in July 2021 and in the local government elections in Cantonment Boards this September. Although the party remained unable to take hold of any seat at any level, it did grab a good number of ballots. This highlights the fact that, in practice, TLP is still not a completely banned political party even if its name has been included in the list of proscribed entities.
Even though most of the top leadership including Saad Hussain Rizvi, the chief of the TLP, are behind bars and facing various charges, the party has been very active since April 2021. The second-tier leadership is in charge of all kinds of decision-making for now and trying to keep the momentum and morale high amongst followers according to Ghulam Mustafa Shahzad, the former Naib Amir of TLP Rawalpindi.
Commenting on the government’s move to ban TLP, legal experts say that under Article 17 of the Constitution of Pakistan government is required to submit a reference in the Supreme Court of Pakistan within fifteen days of making a declaration to ban the political party while submitting its reasons for doing so.
“Since April 2021, the government administration has tried to stop our political activities and pressurise our candidates by applying illegal methods. Therefore, we have had to seek the court’s permission to hold political gatherings in the Azad Kashmir election”, Shahzad tells The News on Sunday (TNS).
In the local government elections of the cantonment board, he says, “a couple of our strong candidates have been disqualified by the election commission – their pleas against this disqualification have been filed in the court”.
However, Shahzad denies the closure of any TLP official property or any other asset that belongs to the political office.
Commenting on the government’s move to ban TLP, legal experts say that under Article 17 of the Constitution of Pakistan, the government is required to submit a reference in the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) within fifteen days of making a declaration to ban the political party while submitting its reasons for doing so.
Article 17 states that “where the Federal Government declare that any political party has been formed or is operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan or public order, the Federal Government shall, within fifteen days of such declaration, refer the matter to the Supreme Court whose decision on such reference shall be final”.
“The law regarding the dissolution of a political party is very clear and if the Appellate Court upholds the government’s decision, the TLP, under section 212 of the Election Act 2017 shall stand disbanded – straightaway”, Kunwar Dilshaad, the former secretary Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) tells TNS.
In such a case, according to Dilshaad, elected members of TLP “will be de-notified under Section 213 of the ECP Act 2017 forthwith from the National or Provincial Assembly or the local government and they would be unable to form any other party or participate in any kind of public activity.
Nevertheless, these members will have the chance to remain in the assembly to complete their constitutional term – but as independent candidates, says Syed Ansar Shah, a legal expert.
“If the three parliamentarians of TLP in Sindh Assembly want to retain their seats, they have to resign from their party membership and publicly renounce their party before the final verdict of the Appellate Court,” adds Shah.
However, there is no constitutional obligation on the TLP to halt its political activities until the Appellate Court disqualifies TLP by upholding the decision of the federal government, he explains.
In July, the federal cabinet approved keeping the TLP banned, strangely enough, no reference was sent to the SCP for further legal procedure.
Amjad Warraich, a political analyst, considers it to be a two-fold approach of the government.
“Since the TLP has served the purpose of damaging the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) well in the 2018 general elections by tapping into the vital religious sentiment and using it in its favour – where PML-N used to have a stronghold, it appears that government wants to keep it this way till the 2023 general elections at least”, says Warraich.
Considering this ‘political gain’, he thinks, the government has been perhaps reluctant in sending a reference to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The author is a staff member. He can be reached at [email protected]