Courtesy: Dawn News/Twitter
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday disqualified PTI chief Imran Khan in the Toshakhana reference under Article 63(1)(p) for making “false statements and incorrect declaration”, triggering protests in various cities.
1- Ruling govt says Imran committed “offence of corrupt practices”
2- Protests reported from Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Karachi as PTI leaders urge people to pour into the streets
3- Imran says disqualification aimed at barring him from leading Haqeeqi Azadi movement
4- Fawad Chaudhry says it’s a “slap on the face of 220m people”
5- Imran’s lawyer Gohar Khan says ruling will be challenged in IHC “right now”
The verdict against the PTI chief comes as a big blow to the party which a few days ago won big in by-polls across the country, following up on its resounding victory in the July by-elections in Punjab — both seen as indicators of public support for the ousted former premier.
The written ruling, a few pages of which are available with Dawn.com, says the respondent had “intentionally and deliberately” violated the provisions contained [in] sections 137, 167 and 173 of the Elections Act, 2017, as he “has made false statement (sic) and incorrect declaration before the Commission in the statement of assets and liabilities filed by him for the year 2020-21”.
Hence, he attracts disqualification under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution read with sections 137 and 173 of the Elections Act, 2017, it added.
The ECP ruling follows up by saying based on the abovementioned findings, facts available on record and keeping in view the argument of learned counsel for parties herein, “we are of the considered opinion that the respondent has become disqualified under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution read with Section 137,167 and 173 of the Elections Act, 2017, consequently he ceases to be a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan and his seat has become vacant accordingly”.
The ruling said as the respondent “has made false statements and incorrect declaration”, therefore he has also committed the “offence of corrupt practices” defined under sections 167 and 173 of the Elections Act, 2017, punishable under Section 174 of the Elections Act, 2017.
“The office is directed to initiate legal proceedings and to take follow-up action under Section 190(2) of the Elections Act, 2017,” the verdict added.
Article 63 (1) (p) of the Constitution states that an individual is, “for the time being, disqualified from being elected or chosen as a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) or of a provincial assembly under any law for the time being in force”.
After the ECP’s verdict, Imran could also cease to be the PTI chairman as per an earlier judgement by the apex court.
In February 2018, the Supreme Court had ruled that an individual disqualified under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution could not serve as head of a political party.
The apex court’s verdict was in response to petitions challenging the Elections Act 2017, which had been bulldozed through parliament to pave the way for Nawaz Sharif’s return to the PML-N’s helm as party president after he had been deemed unfit to hold public office in the Panama Papers judgement for not being ‘honest’ and ‘truthful’ in discharging his obligations as a lawmaker — both necessary conditions to hold public office under Article 62(1)(f).
“ … it is declared that any person who suffers from lack of qualification under Article 62 or disqualification under Article 63 of the Constitution is debarred from holding the position of ‘party head’ by whatever name called and prohibited from exercising any of the powers provided in Article 63-A of the Constitution, as ‘party head’ or any other power in the said capacity under any law, rule, regulation, statute, instrument or document of any political party,“ the judgement issued by the court read.
Ambiguity over disqualification
Legal experts had widely interpreted this as Imran being disqualified till the end of the current National Assembly (NA) term.
As such, he has been de-seated as a member of the NA and by-polls could be held on the seat vacated following his disqualification.
However, one of Imran Khan’s lawyers, Gohar Khan told AFP that the ECP “has declared Imran Khan was involved in corrupt practices”, adding he had been disqualified for five years.
“We are going to challenge it in the Islamabad High Court right now.”
PTI leader Asad Umar also tweeted that the decision would be challenged in the courts as a “minus Imran would always remain a distant dream”.
Barrister Asad Rahim Khan told Dawn.com that it would be premature to comment without reading the order, given the current ambiguity around what provision Imran Khan was disqualified under.
“It is nonetheless a silly verdict — it would have been rendered meaningless under Article 62(1)(f), as the ECP isn’t a court of law,” he said.
“Left to the even more limited parameters of Article 63, the ECP’s decision can only be justified as part of the absurd sequence of events this country has seen since March, rather than any concrete reasoning of law.”
PTI’s official Twitter account, meanwhile, posted a photograph of a smiling Imran Khan holding his prayer beads, saying it was taken just moments before.
A four-member bench, headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja, announced the verdict at the ECP Secretariat in Islamabad.
The decision was taken by the five-member bench. However, the member from Punjab was not present for today’s announcement.
According to the verdict, legal proceedings will be initiated against Imran for misdeclaration.
Law minister presser
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar explained that in case there were objections to the conduct or election of an individual after their election, there were two remedies: approaching the election tribunal within 45 days of the election or disqualification as stated in Article 63-A beyond that period.
“The only remedy, in this case, was disqualification,” he said, accusing the PTI chief of taking “illegal steps” after his election.
The PML-N senator further maintained that all evidence in the case had been documentary, on the basis of which the ECP had found Imran involved in “corrupt practices”.
“The ECP has now referred his case for criminal proceedings against him in an appropriate court of law,” he added.
He also accused PTI “mobs of attacking cities” and consequently, creating trouble for people in the wake of the verdict. “What happened outside the ECP today — you did not even hold back from opening fire [at us].”
The minister said action was being taken over these alleged actions by PTI workers.
Addressing Imran Khan, he added, “Your personal theft has been caught and now you should face the law. Leading mobs, marching on cities and firing do not suit a national leader.”
Alongside Tarar, PML-N MNA Mohsin Shahnawaz said today was a “happy day” for the nation, which had attained “freedom from a fitna”.
“Today, the law has prevailed,” he added.
He also accused PTI workers of attempting a “deadly attack” on PML-N leaders, including him, outside the ECP today. “They even opened fire. I heard the shots as I was leaving,” he said, he would be filing a case against them and Imran.
Shahnawaz further said they had video footage of the alleged incident. “We will put you in jail even before the punishment in the case in the ECP is meted out to you,” he warned.
He said the PTI had the misconception that it could scare and pressurise them through such tactics.
“But we will not get scared or back down. This is the first case. We will file more cases. Today was only the first episode,” he added.
He resolved to give a befitting reply to “what happened at the ECP’s gates today”.
Imran, PTI ask people to ‘come out’ for rights
Meanwhile, a pre-recorded message from the PTI chief surfaced on social media wherein he urged people to “come out” for their rights.
“By the time my message reaches you, I might have been put behind the bars in an unfair case,” he said.
The ex-PM said fundamental rights and democracy had been “buried” in Pakistan.
“It is possible that I might not be able to address you again. I’ve been in the public for 50 years, I have neither flouted the law of Pakistan nor have I violated the Constitution.”
Imran said he always endeavoured to undertake his struggle in a peaceful manner. Whatever is being done today is aimed at barring me from leading the “Haqeeqi Azadi movement”, he added.
He said everyone had to come out for what he described as true freedom. “No nation gets served independence on a plate. Freedom always demands struggle.
“This is the time that all of you must come out for real independence,” he added.
Soon after the verdict was announced, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry, speaking to the media outside the ECP, asked the public to come out of their homes “for their rights”.
He called the ECP’s ruling a “slap on the face of 220 million people” and said, “Today is the beginning of the revolution”.
“Not just anyone cannot disqualify Imran Khan. Only the public can do that,” the PTI leader said.
He alleged that today’s verdict was “written by Nawaz Sharif and signed by his servants”.
“People disapprove of this decision.”
Alongside him, PTI leader Shahbaz Gill said the PTI would approach “every forum” against the verdict. “Imran has been disqualified from just one seat, not politics,” he added.
Prior to the ECP’s announcement, television footage showed PTI leaders climbing over the gate to reach the commission’s secretariat.
Other leaders were unequivocal in their condemnation as well, as they took to social media to air their fury.
Protests reported in various cities
There were reports of protests in Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi. Footage broadcast on DawnNewsTV showed tyres ablaze in Peshawar, while in Islamabad, police could be seen trying to rein in protesters. White mist, which appeared to be tear gas, could also be seen at one point.
PTI workers rallied at the Faizabad interchange, where police intercepted workers from going marching onto Islamabad. As protesters advanced, police started shelling.
PTI workers also blocked Murree Road with burning tyres.
In Rawalpindi, PTI workers demonstrated at Bakra Mandi Chowk, the constituency of Punjab minister Raja Basharat. Party workers raised slogans against the ECP’s decision.
‘ECP has delivered justice’
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif reacted to the ruling, saying that the ECP had delivered justice.
“The nation has seen that the post of prime minister was made a source of personal income through corrupt practices. The idol of “sadiq and ameen” has been shattered,” he tweeted, calling on Imran to bow down before the law instead of “contesting the law, wielding sticks, firing shots and bringing mobs”.
“No one is above the law,” he said.