Pakistan Supreme Court sets aside court decision allowing use of election symbol by former PM Khan’s party – JURIST

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Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Saturday set aside a Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) decision suspending the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) earlier order against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI) that revoked the party’s bat election symbol. This means that PTI will not be able to use their iconic bat symbol.

PTI, which is led by former prime minister Imran Khan, uses a bat as its election symbol. That is crucial for some voters, as the literacy rate in Pakistan as of 2019 is far below the average rate in South Asia, and people use election symbols to know who to vote for on the ballot. The ECP decided to deprive PTI of its symbol due to its failure to hold an intra-party election in accordance with the law.

PTI then submitted petitions against ECP’s restriction order to the Lahore High Court (‘LHC’) and Peshawar High Court’s (PHC) respectively. The case before LHC was initially heard by a single judge, but on PTI’s request for a Full Bench hearing, it is pending adjudication before the court.

The other petition was decided by PHC on Wednesday, which declared the EPC’s order “illegal, without any lawful authority and of no legal effect.” The judge pointed out that ECP’s order, which virtually dissolved a political party, denied the party’s penumbral rights, offends the fundamental rights guaranteed through Article 17 of the Constitution. Therefore, the lower court concluded that PTI is entitled to the Election Symbol strictly under the Election Act, 2017 and Election Rules, 2017.

However, the Supreme Court, comprising the Chief Justice, Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Musarrat Hilali, found that the PTI’s petition filed in PHC was “not maintainable” after a two-day marathon hearing. The unanimous verdict rejects PHC’s view that the provision of the law was absurd,  and says there was no unconstitutional provision. The country’s highest court disagreed with the PHC opinion that “ECP did not have any jurisdiction to question or adjudicate the Intra Party Elections of a political party.”

After the announcement, PTI’s Barrister Gohar Ali Khan said the decision was controversial and that he is deeply disappointed by it. He said the withdrawal of electoral symbol will result in the loss of 227 reserved seats of the party and potentially pave the way for corruption.

In response to the unfavorable finding, PTI announced that all candidates will contest the election independently and issued a candidate list with separate election symbols for each one. Meanwhile, Gohar said his party would file an appeal against the verdict and hope for a reversal.

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