THE Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has disquali fied former Prime Minister Imran Khan from holding public office for incorrectly declaring details of the presents he received from foreign dignitaries and proceeds from their sale.
In a unanimous verdict, the five-member Commission ruled Mr Khan “made false statement and incorrect declaration before the Commission in the statement of assets and liabilities filed by him for the year 2020-21” and so attracted disqualification.
As a result of the disqualification, he “ceases to be a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan and his seat has become vacant accordingly”, the ruling adds.
The decision of the Commission came on a day when media reports spoke of a direct but secret meeting between the representatives of the coalition government and PTI while the incumbent Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa reiterated his earlier decision to retire in five weeks.
The ECP verdict sparked country-wide protests by workers and supporters of PTI, who also indulged in violent activities, especially in the Federal Capital, for hours before a call was given by Imran Khan to stop protests and focus instead on the planned long march on Islamabad.
Legal remedies are available to IK and it has to be seen whether or not he gets the desired relief from the superior judiciary in the backdrop of conflicting views held by the legal community on the powers and authority of the Election Commission to disqualify a sitting member.
Otherwise too, as per legal interpretation, the disqualification is not for life but for the current term of the National Assembly, which means Khan will be free to contest in the next general election.
However, his political opponents are pointing out that the verdict of the ECP raises questions about honesty and integrity of the PTI leader, who lambasts, day in and day out, his rivals describing them as looters, thieves and corrupt.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took to Twitter to comment that the Commission has delivered justice and that the idol of honesty and trust has been dismantled.
Similar views were also expressed by leaders of other political parties, who remain the favourite target of verbal attacks by the PTI leadership.
The ensuing legal battle would determine the political fate of Imran Khan and he might or might not get relief on technical grounds that his legal team is repeatedly citing but the institutional judgement will have repercussions for the widely propagated narrative of the PTI as being the clean party, doing its politics in a transparent manner.
This is because the ECP order says the respondent made false statements and incorrect declaration; therefore, he has also committed the offence of corrupt practices, defined under Section 167 and 173 of the Elections Act, 2017.
While referring to the record forwarded by the Speaker National Assembly Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and also obtained by the Election Commission from the Cabinet Division, and bank statement of the respondent through the State Bank of Pakistan, it said the respondent deliberately concealed the material facts by not disclosing details of gifts in the statement of his assets and liabilities for the year 2018-19 and the sale proceeds.
The amount allegedly received in his bank account did not commensurate with the assessed value of the gifted items.
As for protests, this is a legal process and the battle should be fought on the legal front and not on streets and roads as one witnessed Friday night.
The reports of direct contacts between the two sides are encouraging and the process should be taken to fruition as the country cannot prosper without peace, security and continuity of policies.
Our history bears testimony to the fact that no party can alone resolve the compound economic and financial challenges facing Pakistan.
And even if a party has the vision and the capability to take the country forward, the entire process receives severe jolts at the time of change of the government as new governments mostly discard policies of their predecessors, depriving the people and the country of their benefits and that too just for political enmity.
The Army Chief has also done well by categorically declaring that he would stand retired next month, which implied that a new COAS would be appointed by the Prime Minister during this period as per laid down procedure and this might have a soothing effect on the overall tense political environment.