PTI rendered bat-less by ECP
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News Analysis

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) today, issued formal written directives to the four provincial election commissions across Pakistan not to assign the “bat” symbol (cricket bat) to the candidates of Pakistan Thereek-i-Insaf (PTI) in any future by-elections. ECP has taken this decision because PTI has filed to conduct its internal party elections which were mandatory to be held by March 23, 2017.

ECP letter states that until PTI has completed the intra-party elections and fulfilled the legal requirements, as per the Election Laws 2017, “bat symbol” shall not be allotted to the party according to the section 12 of Political Parties Order 2002. The party ticket holders, if they have to participate in the by-elections, can only do so as independent candidates. In other words, the ECP has ‘banned’ PTI from any by-elections.

PTI sources argue that PMLN, PPP elections are merely cosmetic exercises with pre-determined results and choices, where office bearers are selected with the approval of top leadership – like Mian Nawaz & Zardari – through a power driven consensus that ends in conferring titles.

ECP had previously tried to stop PTI from participating in the bye-Elections in Chakwal, held in the first week of April. However PTI was able to get relief from the Pindi division of Lahore High Court. Relief was specific to the Chakwal elections. PTI lawyers argued, in front of Justice Farrukh Irfan, that the period of four years was not complete when election schedule was announced for the Chakwal by-Elecitons. This was a purely technical defense, since four years period completed on 23rd March 2017 and by-elections schedule had been announced before that.

Read: LHC allows PTI to contest by-polls using “bat” as its symbol, Daily Times

According to the Political Parties Order 2002, “The party leader of each political party shall, within seven days of completion of the intra-party elections, submit a certificate under his signatures to the Election Commission to the effect that the elections were held in accordance with the constitution of the party and the Political Parties Order 2002 to elect the party leader and other office-bearers at the federal, provincial, and local levels, wherever applicable”.

Read more: ECP rejects disqualification references against Imran Khan & Jehangir Tareen

PTI’ real problem with Intra-party Elections? 

In Lahore High Court, party offered a technical explanation but the real problems of PTI are intricate, and offer an interesting window to understand the challenges of democratic politics in Pakistan. The last intra-party elections were held by the PTI in 2012 (on time) and March 23, 2013, which was a delayed intra-party election and according to the party’s constitution the next intra-party elections were to be held by the same date this year, in 2017.

Elections vs Selections? 

PTI’s last elections in March 2013, almost on the pattern of western political parties, took several months of logistical planning, with several million registered party members voting electronically through telephone systems. Results of the elections were later considered divisive as sharp polarizations emerged inside the party as a result of the high pitched electoral exercise.

PTI’s could not hold intra-party elections in time, due to several reasons. PTI sources point out that its internal elections are very different – an elaborate and detailed exercise – in nature as compared to what other parties are holding, to merely satisfy the requirements of ECP. PTI sources argue that PMLN, PPP elections are merely cosmetic exercises with pre-determined results and choices, where office bearers are selected with the approval of top leadership – like Mian Nawaz & Zardari – through a power driven consensus that ends in conferring titles. Unlike PTI, other parties thus don’t offer a competitive democratic process for new leadership to emerge; they argue. This argument makes sense when you take even a cursory comparison of the processes.

2013 Party Elections: Never Ending Controversy? 

PTI’s last elections in March 2013, almost on the pattern of western political parties, took several months of logistical planning, with several million registered party members voting electronically through telephone systems. Results of the elections were later considered divisive as sharp polarizations emerged inside the party as a result of the high pitched electoral exercise. Later complaints rose to a level that an Enquiry Commission/tribunal was set up to investigate alleged rigging by members in the last elections. Imran Khan constituted a tribunal under retired Justice Wajihuddin.

Will these be the kind of elaborate democratic exercise PTI and Imran Khan had envisioned as a challenge or learning from its difficult experiences it will be the kind of cosmetic exercise all Pakistani political parties do? This remains to be seen.

The tribunal under Justice Wajihuddin had pointed out serious irregularities and made recommendations regarding those responsible for it followed by the call to remove PTI’s secretary general Jahangir Tareen and key office-bearers. However, Imran Khan did not follow through with the recommendations – considering them more divisive. Justice Wajih kept on agitating his case on media but party leadership argued that his tribunal was created with a specific purpose and it automatically stood dissolved after submitting its report. This conflict finally lead to Justice Wajihuddin’s removal from the party.

Read more: What we need to do to ensure ‘free and fair’ elections in Pakistan

But the internal conflict did not stop there. Ex-Secreary Interior, and a prominent PTI intellectual, Tasneem Noorani was then appointed as the new election commissioner. He was nominated by Imran Khan himself. He too left the post, falling to internal squabbles, after a formal resignation in March 2016, based on a difference of opinion over the election and other technical issues.

PTI never wanted to hold the kind of elections PPP and PMLN or JUIF hold. Will it now be compelled to abandon its own dreams of western style democratic internal party elections in favor of an easy to manage Pakistani style one day cosmetic exercise to meet requirements of ECP, remains to be seen.

Currently, Senator Azam Swati is the elected commissioner who has yet to announce the date for intra-party elections. But sources point out that such elections will be soon held – before the announcement of the next by-elections schedule. Will these be the kind of elaborate democratic exercise PTI and Imran Khan had envisioned as a challenge or learning from its difficult experiences it will be the kind of cosmetic exercise all Pakistani political parties do? This remains to be seen.

PTI blamed ECP for singling it out for punishment

Before PTI was able to obtain relief from the Lahore High Court, in the by-elections held in Chakwal on April 18, 2017, PTI candidates were stopped from participating by the ECP. At the eleventh hour, the party had managed to get a temporary relief through Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court.

Read more: Question of overseas voting back in the supreme court of Pakistan

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, later accused the ECP of singling out one particular party in this matter. This allegation was dismissed by the ECP as “ridiculous” because ECP is making sure that the parties which contest in the elections and by-elections have completed the requirements stated in the constitution and the Political Parties Order 2002, which PTI had failed to do.

Earlier this year in January, PPP held its intra-party elections at Bilawal house in Karachi where PPP parliamentarians elected Asif Ali Zardari as President and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party. While PML-N had its intra-party elections on 18, October 2016 in an exercise, a bit more detailed than PPP, but essentially the same in terms of control and preferences from the top

However there is an interesting twist in all this. Political Parties Order 2002 was introduced by the Musharraf government to promote the concept of internal party elections and to help encourage political parties to throw up new leadership, instead of the old families. But ECP merely expects political parties to conduct elections as per their own constitutions. ECP has failed to prescribe any detailed uniform standards, or benchmarks to ensure that such party elections meet the internationally accepted norms. None of the donors, pleading interest in Pakistani democracy, have ever raised this issue.

Earlier this year in January, PPP held its intra-party elections at Bilawal house in Karachi where PPP parliamentarians elected Asif Ali Zardari as President and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party. While PML-N had its intra-party elections on 18, October 2016 in an exercise, a bit more detailed than PPP, but essentially the same in terms of control and preferences from the top. That technically makes PTI the only party which has not yet conducted its intra-party election; but PTI never wanted to hold the kind of elections PPP and PMLN or JUIF hold. Will it now be compelled to abandon its own dreams of western style democratic internal party elections in favor of an easy to manage Pakistani style one day cosmetic exercise to meet requirements of ECP, remains to be seen.

Read more: 2018 Elections will be pointless: without “major electoral reforms”

The certificate issued by the party leader after intra-party elections should contain information about names, designations, last party elections, and addresses of the party leader and all office bearers and last party elections. The information submitted should also contain election results comprising of the total number of vote cast and number of votes secured by each contestant for all of its party offices along with a copy of the party’s notification, declaring the results of the election. Such statistics have never been revealed to the media, by ECP. Nor has media shown much interest. If now PTI also falls in line with another ‘cosmetic exercise’ then it will definitely be a set back to the process of democracy in Pakistan.


Please tell us: Do you think it is a good time for PTI to be holding intra-party elections before 2018 elections?

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