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In a major setback ahead of the February 8 elections, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lost its iconic “bat” symbol after the Supreme Court Saturday annulled the Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) January 10 order.

A three-member bench — headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Musarrat Hilali — announced the unanimous verdict after a day-long hearing.

The apex court’s ruling came after hours of wait as the top court’s CJP Isa-led three-member bench decided to uphold the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) plea.

The election governing body had assailed the PHC verdict declaring the commission’s order “illegal, without any lawful authority and of no legal effect”.

The contention started with the December 22, 2023, decision of the election commission, barring the PTI party from keeping its electoral symbol for the upcoming February 8 elections, citing irregularities in their internal polls that did not comply with the party’s own constitution and election laws.

This prompted the Imran Khan-led party to challenge the revocation of their symbol in the PHC. A single-member judge granted temporary relief, reinstated the bat symbol, and referred the case to a larger bench for a hearing on January 9.

Then, on December 30, the polling body challenged the PHC’s jurisdiction over the matter. However, in a dramatic turn of events, the PHC reversed its earlier decision and upheld the ECP’s order.

Facing the prospect of losing its iconic cricket bat symbol for the upcoming elections, the PTI took its fight to the highest court in the land — the Supreme Court. However, in a strategic move, they later withdrew their appeal, hoping for a favourable outcome from the PHC.

And the PTI did get what it wanted with PHC’s nullification of the ECP decision, but not for long as today’s verdict took away the much-sought-after electoral symbol.

The top court allowed ECP’s petition by setting aside the high court’s ruling and upheld the December 22 decision of the electoral body.

The five-page verdict stated that the apex court judges “do not agree with the learned judges [of the PHC] that the ECP did not have ‘any jurisdiction to question or adjudicate the intra-party elections of a political party.'”

It stated that accepting any such interpretation would render all provisions in the Election Act, 2017, that require the holding of intra-party elections “illusory and of no consequence and be redundant”.

The verdict stated that since the ECP had been calling upon PTI to hold its intra-party elections since 24 May 2021, the time when the party was in power, “it cannot be stated that ECP was victimising PTI”.

In its reasoning for today’s verdict, the top court stated that the PTI’s petition filed in the PHC was “not maintainable” as it failed to disclose that another similar petition was pending before the five-member bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC).

The apex court underscored that although a petitioner “may elect to avail of his remedy before either court, but having chosen a particular court the same dispute cannot then be taken to the other court”.

It further stated that 14 PTI members, with stated credentials, had complained to ECP that the party’s internal elections had not been held, but PTI brushed aside these claims, saying that the complainants were not the party members.

“[…] this bare denial was insufficient, particularly when they [complainants] had credibly established their long association with PTI,” the verdict read.

“Democracy founded Pakistan, a fundamental aspect of which is the ability to put oneself forward as a candidate and to be able to vote, both within a political party and in general elections. Anything less would give rise to authoritarianism which may lead to dictatorship.”

With thanks: The News