ISLAMABAD: In a significant development, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has declared the intra-party polls of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) “unconstitutional” and revoked its claim on the iconic electoral symbol. The ECP’s decision, announced on Friday, comes despite assurances from the Supreme Court (SC) and the ECP itself that the PTI’s concerns over a “level playing field” would be addressed.

The reserved verdict follows a directive from the Peshawar High Court (PHC) to decide on the matter of PTI’s intra-party polls and electoral symbol by Friday. The ECP, in its 11-page order, stated that the PTI had not complied with the directions given in its order dated November 23, 2023, regarding the holding of intra-party elections in accordance with the PTI Constitution, 2019, the Election Act, 2017, and Election Rules, 2017.

The commission rejected a certificate and Form-65 filed by former party chairman Gohar Khan and declared the PTI ineligible to obtain an election symbol under Section 215 of the Elections Act, 2017.

In response, the PTI denounced the decision, labeling it part of the “famous London Plan” and a “disgusting and shameful attempt to stop PTI from [participating in the] election.” The party vowed to challenge the decision at every forum, asserting that its candidates would contest the polls with the ‘bat’ symbol.

If the judicial intervention does not allow the PTI to obtain an election symbol, its candidates may have to contest as independents. In such a scenario, they would be unable to join the PTI, even if they win, unless the ECP re-lists the party. This situation could expose them to pressures to join other parties without risking the loss of their seats under the defection clause.

Earlier in the day, the SC called for a level playing field for all political parties, emphasizing the importance of fair elections in giving legitimacy to the elected government. The court directed the petitioner or any representative of a political party to approach the ECP for redressal of grievances related to the elections.

In response, the ECP assured the PTI that it would address its concerns, including the replacement of district returning officers and returning officers creating obstacles in obtaining and submitting nomination papers. The PTI delegation received assurances from the commission, which pledged action against personnel and police officers impeding the electoral process.

PTI lawyer Shoaib Shaheen expressed hope that the ECP would play its role in ensuring free and fair elections, highlighting the commitment of federal and provincial authorities to assist the ECP in conducting transparent elections. The ECP has also established complaint cells in the provinces to promptly address election-related complaints.