Why is PTI ineligible to obtain the symbol, and how will it affect the party’s electoral competition??
In a major political development ahead of the February 8 general elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) declared the intra-party elections conducted by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) null and void, thus withdrawing the party’s election symbol [Bat]. The commission ruled that the PTI did not hold the polls in line with the Election Act of 2017. Under the rule, the party stands ineligible to obtain the election symbol of ‘Bat’. A five-member bench, led by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja, gave the decision on the petitions challenging PTI’s intra-party elections.
The reserved verdict was announced a day after the Peshawar High Court directed the ECP to decide the petitions filed against PTI’s intra-party elections in accordance with the law. The commission mentioned in its verdict that “the PTI did not comply with the commission’s directions rendered therein order dated 23rd November, 2023 and failed to hold intra-party elections.
In response, PTI leader Barrister Gohar Ali decried the decision as a conspiracy, expressing intentions to challenge it in the High Court.
Comparisons have been drawn between PTI’s current predicament and the historical instance when the People’s Party lost its sword symbol.
PPP gets ‘sword’ as election symbol after some years.
Back in 1985, during Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, the sword symbol was omitted from the list of available election symbols, seemingly as a move to weaken the political strength of the People’s Party. However, the PPP later regained both the arrow and sword symbols in subsequent elections.
Contrary to popular belief, the bat has not always been PTI’s election symbol. When the party was formed, its symbol in the 1997 elections was a lamp.
However, the bat became associated with PTI, especially during the Cricket World Cup, ultimately becoming its distinctive electoral symbol.
The ECP rendered the intra-party polls invalid; hence, Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, who became the party’s chairman, would no longer be the party’s top head. The ECP had taken notice of the intra-party elections of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), during which Barrister Gohar Ali Khan secured a comfortable victory as the party’s new chairman. These elections took place on Dec 3, following the ECP’s declaration that the intra-party polls held in June 2022 were null and void. The ECP provided the PTI with a 20-day time to conduct fresh elections, warning that failure to do so could lead to ineligibility.
The electoral watchdog’s decision to deprive the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of its election symbol ‘bat’ came as a serious blow for the beleaguered party of former prime minister Imran Khan that is already struggling to field its candidates for the February 8 elections. As a consequence of the decision taken under Section 215 of the Election Act 2017, all PTI candidates will now contest the general election as independents, each with a different election symbol, thus distracting the party supporters and followers to vote in favour of its candidates.
The PTI pins high hopes over the superior judiciary expecting that the court will overturn the decision to provide it a level playing field in the contest. The party is optimistic that it has time till January 13 – the date fixed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for allotment of election symbols to candidates – to get some relief from the higher courts, preferably the Supreme Court. Unless the superior judiciary overturns the ECP order that stripped the PTI of its election symbol, the decision has practically sealed the fate of the party as far as the next general elections are concerned.
All those PTI candidates who will run as independents are not bound to follow the party discipline and they can join any party to sit either in the National Assembly or the respective provincial assembly. Consequentially, the relevant Articles of the Constitution barring the lawmakers from floor-crossing will not apply to them. As per the Political Analytics, the impact of the decision in simple words was that “PTI is no longer an enlisted political party with the ECP”.
The second impact of withdrawing the election symbol, was that if ECP kept ‘bat’ as an available symbol on its list, then it may be allotted to independent candidates in various constituencies, or any political party can also ask for it.
The decision was a setback for PTI in another way that while now it was not enlisted as an election symbol, it couldn’t submit any list of candidates for reserved seats of women and minorities at the national and provincial levels.
Lastly, the decision will also affect the PTI in the Senate elections that are due in March next year. The Electoral College for the Senate election is national and provincial assemblies. The analysts suggest that PTI could partner with a smaller and lesser-known party and compete under a shared and single election symbol. This option, too, will not lessen problems for the PTI in the future.