Pakistan Supreme Court orders election commission to resolve concerns over 2024 general election – JURIST

The Supreme Court of Pakistan issued an order on Friday that requires the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to resolve grievances relating to the absence of a fair and free process in the following election.

The Pakistan general election will be held on February 8, 2024, to elect the members of the 16th National Assembly. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), one of the three major parties in Pakistan, filed a constitutional petition alleging that its members are being arrested and harassed and their nomination papers are being snatched, which constitutes a violation of fair and free elections. Further, PTI requested that ECP should provide a level playing field for the leaders and workers of the PTI to ensure the election process remains free and fair in Pakistan.

The ECP, a permanent constitutional body, was formed on March 23, 1956, in terms of Article 218 of the Pakistan Constitution, retaining full financial autonomy and independence from all government control. It is charged with regulating, monitoring, holding and conducting elections of assemblies, senate and local governments. Under Article 218(3) of the Constitution, ECP has the constitutional responsibility to conduct elections honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and to guard against corrupt practices. However, PTI alleged that ECP didn’t respond to their complaints in this regard after approaching ECP under the Elections Act, 2017.

The Supreme Court reiterates the mandatory responsibility and importance of ECP in the democratic election process, pointing out that ECP should “ensure that elections are conducted in accordance with the democratic principles and that elections are free from undue influence, coercion, and corruption” and “ensure that all political parties and candidates have an equal opportunity to participate in the election process.” Therefore, the court ordered ECP to attend to grievances raised by PTI or any person representing any other political party in the electoral process urgently and resolve them expeditiously. Also, ECP shall conduct this action without disturbing the timelines given in the election programme. According to the Supreme Court, ECP should bear in mind that “organizing free and fair elections is more important than the results itself.”

On the same day, the ECP decided to deprive PTI of its election symbol of the cricket bat due to the failure to hold an intra-party election “in accordance with PTI prevailing Constitution 2019, and Election Act, 2017, and Election Rules, 2017.” The election symbol is crucial for some voters, as the literacy rate in Pakistan up to 2019 is far below the rate of South Asia, according to World Bank statistics.

After its commitment to the Supreme Court, PTI’s Raoof Hasan described ECP’s decision as “excessively biased and criminally partisan.” “It still won’t work. And the bat will still be back,” said PTI’s Taimur Khan Jhagra.

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