PTI Sans BAT and Playground

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By

Qamar Bashir

Press Secretary to the President(Rtd)

Former Press Minister at Embassy of Pakistan to France

Former MD, SRBC

The PTI’s plight can be likened to facing double jeopardy in a rigged match. Initially, they were denied a fair playing field, and subsequently, they were stripped of the emblematic BAT symbol. The analogy mirrors a cricket game where one team is equipped with guards, safety gadgets, their own umpire, a favorable ground, and a bat, while the other team is denied safety equipment, the BAT, and access to the field, effectively barring them from even entering the playground. Consequently, it’s akin to handing a walkover victory to the favored team, unjustly declaring them the winners.

This scenario was painted in the Supreme court by the PTI’s lawyer Sardar Latif Khosa around first jeopardy where relying on the report filed by the Election Commission, he pleaded that  political scenario in Pakistan reveals a disturbing asymmetry in the political landscape, where one party faces a relentless onslaught from the state machinery while others glide through their election preparations with ease. While rivals conduct candidate interviews in opulent drawing rooms accompanied by lavish feasts, this singular party battles each day for mere survival. Their access to political and administrative arenas has been systematically barred—a calculated strategy aimed not just at crippling but annihilating them.

Another scenario was painted by the PTI’s lawyers in the Peshawar High Court around second jeopardy where the PTI lawyers pleaded that following  a directive from the Election Commission, the party held the  intra party elections strictly in accordance with the party’s constitution yet, within days, these very elections were branded unlawful. Worse, the party was denied the emblematic BAT symbol, laden with the historic significance of the Chairman’s leadership, notably marked by the cricket World Cup triumph in 1992. This symbol wasn’t just a party emblem; it encapsulated the aspirations and pride of the electorate, the Peshawar High Court first allowed the retention of the bat by PTI but rethought its decision and took away the BAT as a symbol. PTI now is all set to prefer appeal before the supreme court with the hope to get its symbol back which is a distant possibility albeit worth trying.

According to PTI lawyers, denial of an emblem goes beyond mere symbolism but effectively dissolves the party for practical intents, forcing the party’s candidate to contest election in their individual capacity with separate symbols for each individual leading to a fragmented struggle. Such a calculated suppression undermines not just the party’s identity but also erodes the democratic fabric by silencing diverse voices.

They argued that separate symbols for hundreds of party’s candidates in the federal and provincial levels  would create confusion among voters who may struggle to recognize or locate the party on the ballot, resulting in potential loss of votes. Additionally, this last-minute change undermines the party’s campaigning efforts, stripping them of a vital visual tool integral to their promotional materials. The sudden absence of their symbol creates a void that’s challenging to fill in the eleventh hour of a political race. It  erodes the morale of party workers and supporters. Legal battles to reclaim the symbol can drain resources and attention, diverting crucial focus away from campaigning efforts. Ultimately, the loss of a symbol doesn’t just impede current electoral success; it can cast shadows over the party’s credibility and standing in future elections.

This means that a party will be contesting elections on the face of an uneven playing field and without its symbol in the lead-up to general elections impeding fair representation, distorting the ability of parties to reach voters on an equal footing. This distortion not only skews public perceptions but also undermines the electorate’s capacity to make informed choices. The erosion of a level playing field corrodes trust in the democratic process, fostering disillusionment and cynicism among citizens. This disillusionment, if left unaddressed, can result in reduced voter turnout, weakening the legitimacy of election outcomes and threatening the very foundation of a robust democracy.

PTI’s vehemently uphill efforts in Supreme Court to secure a level playing field and restore its symbol may not go in waste as there are many examples in the judicial parlance of many countries where the parties deprived of symbols and level playing field were provided with remedy.

In India- Sampath Kumar v. Union of India (2000),  the Supreme Court of India addressed a case where a political party was denied its election symbol. The court ruled that the Election Commission’s decision to freeze the symbol violated natural justice and ordered the restoration of the symbol to the party.

In Bangladesh – Jamaat-e-Islami v. Bangladesh Election Commission (2013), the Bangladesh Supreme Court dealt with a case involving a political party whose registration was canceled, thereby denying them the right to participate in elections. The court upheld the Election Commission’s decision, stating that the cancellation was justified due to violations of the country’s election laws.

In the United States – Bush v. Gore (2000), the U.S. Supreme Court was involved in deciding the outcome of the presidential election. The case centered on the recounting of votes in Florida and whether it was being conducted fairly. The Court ruled in favor of George W. Bush, effectively ending the recount and deciding the election outcome.

In Zimbabwe – Movement for Democratic Change v. Zimbabwe Election Commission (2018), the Zimbabwean courts heard cases regarding allegations of election irregularities and lack of a level playing field. While some cases were dismissed, others led to calls for electoral reforms, highlighting concerns about fairness and transparency.

Seeking recourse in the Supreme Court of Pakistan offers a potential avenue for a political party unfairly deprived of a level playing field and denied their election symbol. However, the outcome of such appeals is intricate, resting on several critical factors. The success of the appeal hinges on the legal arguments presented, demanding clear evidence of constitutional or electoral law violations. The court’s independence and impartiality, coupled with strong evidence supporting the party’s claims, are pivotal. Past legal precedents, public perceptions, and political pressures also subtly influence the environment, shaping the court’s decision-making process. If the case finds favor, possible remedies might include corrective measures in the electoral process or fair allocation of symbols, yet the complexity of judicial proceedings means outcomes aren’t guaranteed.