Plea against Imran’s disqualification referred to LHC CJ

Judge asks CJ to form larger bench for hearing of petition

Justice Sajid Mahmood Sethi of Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday asked the Chief Justice to form a larger bench to hear a petition challenging the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan to disqualify PTI Chairman Imran Khan in the Toshakhana reference.

Justice Sethi made this decision while hearing a petition moved by Jabir Abbas, a resident and voter of Mianwali. Advocate Azhar Siddique represented the petitioner and argued that the ECP had exceeded its powers and limitations by disqualifying PTI Chairman Imran Khan in the Toshakhana reference. He said that the ECP order was challenged before the Islamabad High Court while the virus of Section 137 of the Election Act was challenged before this court [Lahore High Court].

The ECP officials, however, said that the matter was already pending before the Islamabad High Court (IHC). Advocate Siddique contended that the ECP is neither a court nor a tribunal and it does not have powers to disqualify any lawmaker. The Punjab government said that their reply is ready and let the ECP come but the petitioner’s counsel intervened and said that the ECP has nothing to do with it.

“The court has to decide this matter and not the ECP,” said Advocate Azhar, pointing out that this matter involved “interpretation”.  The Federal government said that the Law and the Parliamentary Ministry were not made a party in the case. At this, the court directed to make the Law and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry as respondent. The petitioner’s counsel argued that the ECP could take action on a declaration after 120 days not later than that, asking the court to nullify the verdict of Imran Khan’s disqualification in the Toshakhana case as the ECP narrated the constitution ‘wrong’ in its verdict.

He also submitted that if anything illegal happened, the matter should be forwarded to the relevant authorities, and ECP could not disqualify anyone. After the initial hearing, LHC Judge Sajid Mahmood Sethi asked the chief justice to constitute a larger bench for the hearing of the case.

Last week, a petition was also moved to the LHC seeking the removal of Imran Khan as PTI Chairman. Advocate Ashfaq Ahmed filed the petition and made Punjab Chief Election Commissioner, Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan, Federal Ministry of Law and PTI Punjab office as respondents. He has also made PTI Chairman Imran Khan a respondent. The lawyer argued that Imran Khan, the PTI Chairman, was disqualified as a Member of the National Assembly from his seat of NA-95 by the ECP under Article 63(1)(p).  He argued that the party office bearers must be qualified and eligible for their offices and posts in the political parties under the Representation of Peoples Act, 1976, Political Parties and Article 62 and Article 63 of the Constitution.

After being disqualified by the ECP, the lawyer contended that Imran Khan should be removed from the office of chairmanship of the party as he did not meet the merit. He contended that a disqualified person could not hold the top office of any political party and he also could not be a member of the legislative assembly under the law. The petitioner submitted that it would be complete justice if Imran Khan, after being disqualified, is now removed from the top office of the party.

He asked the court to order the ECP to give directions to the PTI for a new chairman of the party. The ECP, on Oct 21, 2022, had disqualified PTI Chairman and former Premier Imran, holding that he indeed made “false statements and incorrect declarations” regarding the gifts in Toshakhana reference- a verdict that triggered widespread protests by the PTI. Imran also sought a court declaration stating that the ECP lacked the jurisdiction to decide “any questions of ‘corrupt practices and disqualification'” under the Election Act and Election Rules, 2017.

It may be mentioned here that Toshakhana is a department under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division and stores precious gifts given to rulers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats, and officials by heads of other governments and states and foreign dignitaries. The gifts/presents and other such materials received by persons to whom these rules apply shall be reported to the Cabinet Division under Toshakhana rules.

Fida Hussnain is a correspondent covering judiciary, politics, business and health issues. He is also a feature writer and researcher with major work on freedom of press in Pakistan. He tweets @fidahassanain and can be reached at fidahassanain@gmail.com.

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