Pakistan court restores ex-PM Imran Khan’s cricket bat election symbol

The order, less than a month before the election, could be challenged in Pakistan’s Supreme Court by the country’s election commission.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was given a relief on Wednesday when a court allowed the party to use its electoral symbol in upcoming polls.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf won relief on Wednesday when a court allowed the party to use its electoral symbol, the cricket bat, in upcoming polls [ EPA]

Islamabad, Pakistan: Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party received a boost weeks before general elections when a court reinstated – for the second time – their electoral symbol, the cricket bat.

A two-member bench of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) in the country’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa held that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s decision to strip the party off its symbol last month was “illegal”. Khan is Pakistan’s most celebrated cricketer ever and had led them to their only World Cup win in 1992.

The order came less than a month before Pakistan votes in a general election scheduled to take place on February 8.

Senator Ali Zafar, a senior leader of the PTI and member of party’s legal team in the case, said the Peshawar court’s order was a testament to the party’s “pursuit for justice and truth”.

“We, the PTI, are upholding the values of justice and this verdict gives credence to our stance. Nobody can stop us from winning the polls,” he told Al Jazeera.

The ECP had taken away the PTI’s electoral symbol on December 22, saying that the party had violated the constitution and election laws during its internal organisational elections.

The PTI appealed the case in the PHC, which issued a provisional order until January 9, overturning the polling body’s verdict.

However, the ECP appealed the reversal, and got itself a favourable result from the same court on January 3. The beleaguered political party continued to fight back, filing yet another appeal with Pakistan’s Supreme Court, as well.

Earlier today, the PTI withdrew their appeal from the apex court, expressing their faith in getting a favourable result from the two-member bench of the PHC, which they did hours later.

While the ECP has not issued a formal response, it is expected that the electoral watchdog will move the country’s top court.

Zafar, the PTI lawyer, said the party was prepared to battle it out in the courts.

“We do not fear what comes next. We trust in the country’s constitution, its laws and the superior courts. We do not fear ECP filing a review petition and are fully prepared to face them,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that instead of remaining a neutral body as they should, they are acting like adversaries of the PTI,” Zafar added.

Khan’s party came to power in 2018, amid allegations that it had been propped up by Pakistan’s powerful establishment. But once in office, Khan’s popularity surged — especially after he took on the same military establishment he had once cultivated.

Khan was deposed through a parliamentary vote of no confidence in April 2022, but has remained wildly popular among several sections of the population. The former cricket captain is currently in prison and is facing multiple legal challenges including corruption charges, targeting military installations, and revealing state secrets among others.

Meanwhile, another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has returned to Pakistan after years in exile. He, too, was convicted on corruption charges — but the cases against him have now been dropped, and many analysts have said he is now the military’s favourite in the elections.

Large number of PTI leaders have either quit the party or joined other political rivals, while some are currently underground trying to avoid being arrested. Many of party’s candidates for the polls have seen their nominations rejected by the ECP, including Khan himself.

Observers, while appreciating the decision by the court, said that the party’s struggle to lock down its symbol was not yet over, as it might need to fight at the Supreme Court, too.

“This is a good decision because no party should be deprived of its election symbol, especially just before the general elections. It would have raised more questions about the upcoming election’s legitimacy,” Mehmal Sarfraz, a Lahore-based political analyst told Al Jazeera.

“Today’s judiciary does not want to be part of any political engineering,” she added.

Zafar, however, claimed that the odds were “deliberately stacked against the party”.

“I would say that the manner in which PTI is facing the abuse of law, and the way ECP is conducting its business in trying to keep us out of the polling race, it appears that they really don’t want the party to contest, perhaps scared due to our popularity,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera