Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Aamer Farooq on Wednesday remarked that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s decision in the prohibited funding case against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was an ‘observation’ and that if the PTI proved that the funds were not prohibited, the decision would have to be changed.
A larger bench headed by the IHC CJ heard the PTI’s plea against the electoral watchdog’s decision in the prohibited funding case, wherein the ECP declared that the PTI was a foreign-funded party.
Barrister Anwar Mansoor appeared in the court on behalf of PTI and in his arguments said that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had begun its action in the context of the ECP’s decision.
The chief justice highlighted that the commission’s decision was sometimes being "called an order, sometimes a report, and sometimes an opinion". He maintained that he viewed it as a fact-finding report.
The PTI lawyer maintained that the ECP had no authority to give such a declaration.
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Justice Farooq said that the electoral body had not given any declaration that stated Imran Khan is not honest and trustworthy. He furthered that the commission had only made one conclusion.
To this, Mansoor stated that the ECP had in fact given its declaration and reiterated that it did not have the authority to do so.
He furthered that the ECP had used the word “hold” and Justice Mian Gul Hasan Aurangzeb questioned how the commission could do that without showing its show-cause notice to the PTI.
Justice Farooq inquired whether the former ruling party was worried about disqualification at the hands of the ECP, to which the party’s lawyer stated that the ECP had declared PTI chief Imran Khan’s declaration of funding to be wrong.
He added that the ECP had dubbed PTI a “foreign-aided party” which it did not have the authority to do.
CJ Farooq said that the ECP had not given any declarations in its report, while Justice Aurangzeb said that the ECP should have reached a conclusion before issuing the show-cause notice.
The lawyer further said that Imran Khan was not made a party in the case, rather the PTI as a whole was made a party. He said that the ECP did not issue a notice to Imran Khan.
To this, the chief justice said that the Election Commission would probably not do as much as the counsel thought.
Later, the lawyer of the ECP argued that the commission's verdict would be called a decision because a show-cause notice was issued after that.
The court said that the ECP had shown that it would forfeit the funds to the government if the case was proven. The ECP advocate replied that the funds could only be confiscated as a final result.
The court inquired why the ECP referred the matter to the federal government to which the lawyer stated that the commission was a regulator and told the government the information they discovered.
The court asked what the last two open-ended lines of the decision meant, to which the ECP counsel said that the commission only sent that information to the federal government in the context of the Hanif Abbasi decision.
“After seeing the information, the cabinet can give an independent opinion on it,” he added.
The court questioned if the federal government could take action if the last two lines were not mentioned in the ECP decision. The lawyer said that the matter was before the public so the government could still take action.
Justice Aurangzeb inquired how the ECP had the authority to refer the matter to the federal government. To this, the lawyer stated that the commission received information and forwarded it to the government. He added that further action is yet to be taken against the petitioner.
Justice Farooq maintained that even if the ECP had not sent the matter to the federal government, it would not have mattered and that under the rules the electoral watchdog could only confiscate funds.
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He maintained that the court was not there to solve political problems but to observe the law after the PTI counsel alleged that the proceedings before the ECP were not “fair”.
Justice Aurangzeb questioned what would happen if PTI successfully defended the show cause notice against it by the ECP, to which the ECP lawyer stated that the matter would end if the party could defend itself.
“We will listen to the PTI with an open mind in the show cause,” the ECP lawyer said.
The PTI’s lawyer argued that the PTI was the only party scrutinised.
The court remarked that the ECP itself said that they are not doing anything under Section 2C(3).
Mansoor said that the last two lines should be deleted from the report of the Election Commission.
The CJ maintained that the ECP was giving the party a chance and questioned what the PTI wanted, adding that the ECP had said that the points satisfied by the PTI would be removed from the decision.
“If you are not satisfied with the decision again, you can come to the court,” he added.
Mansoor said that the commission would only remove matters related to funding, and maintained that the ECP misinterpreted the law.
The chief justice said that the PTI was heard even after the scrutiny committee report and in principle, had already passed the stage of exposure. He added that the ECP was ready to hear from the PTI again.
The court furthered that it would look into the party’s objections about the last two lines of the ECP’s decision.
After hearing the arguments of the parties, the IHC reserved its verdict regarding the petition of the PTI against the decision of the ECP.