The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday disqualified PTI chief Imran Khan in the Toshakhana reference under Article 63(1)(p) for making “false statements and incorrect declaration”, triggering protests in various cities.
The verdict against the PTI chief comes as a big blow to the party which a few days ago won big in by-polls across the country, following up on its resounding victory in the July by-elections in Punjab — both seen as indicators of public support for the ousted former premier.
The written ruling, a few pages of which are available with Dawn.com, says the respondent had “intentionally and deliberately” violated the provisions contained [in] sections 137, 167 and 173 of the Elections Act, 2017, as he “has made false statement (sic) and incorrect declaration before the Commission in the statement of assets and liabilities filed by him for the year 2020-21”.
Hence, he attracts disqualification under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution read with sections 137 and 173 of the Elections Act, 2017, it added.
The ECP ruling follows up by saying based on the abovementioned findings, facts available on record and keeping in view the argument of learned counsel for parties herein, “we are of the considered opinion that the respondent has become disqualified under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution read with Section 137,167 and 173 of the Elections Act, 2017, consequently he ceases to be a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan and his seat has become vacant accordingly”.
The ruling said as the respondent “has made false statements and incorrect declaration”, therefore he has also committed the “offence of corrupt practices” defined under sections 167 and 173 of the Elections Act, 2017, punishable under Section 174 of the Elections Act, 2017.
“The office is directed to initiate legal proceedings and to take follow-up action under Section 190(2) of the Elections Act, 2017,” the verdict added.
Article 63 (1) (p) of the Constitution states that an individual is, “for the time being, disqualified from being elected or chosen as a member of the Majlis-e-Shoora (parliament) or of a provincial assembly under any law for the time being in force”.
After the ECP’s verdict, Imran could also cease to be the PTI chairman as per an earlier judgement by the apex court.
In February 2018, the Supreme Court had ruled that an individual disqualified under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution could not serve as head of a political party.
The apex court’s verdict was in response to petitions challenging the Elections Act 2017, which had been bulldozed through parliament to pave the way for Nawaz Sharif’s return to the PML-N’s helm as party president after he had been deemed unfit to hold public office in the Panama Papers judgement for not being ‘honest’ and ‘truthful’ in discharging his obligations as a lawmaker — both necessary conditions to hold public office under Article 62(1)(f).
“ … it is declared that any person who suffers from lack of qualification under Article 62 or disqualification under Article 63 of the Constitution is debarred from holding the position of ‘party head’ by whatever name called and prohibited from exercising any of the powers provided in Article 63-A of the Constitution, as ‘party head’ or any other power in the said capacity under any law, rule, regulation, statute, instrument or document of any political party,“ the judgement issued by the court read.
Ambiguity over disqualification
Legal experts had widely interpreted this as Imran being disqualified till the end of the current National Assembly (NA) term.
As such, he has been de-seated as a member of the NA and by-polls could be held on the seat vacated following his disqualification.
However, one of Imran Khan’s lawyers, Gohar Khan told AFP that the ECP “has declared Imran Khan was involved in corrupt practices”, adding he had been disqualified for five years.
“We are going to challenge it in the Islamabad High Court right now.”
PTI leader Asad Umar also tweeted that the decision would be challenged in the courts as a “minus Imran would always remain a distant dream”.
Barrister Asad Rahim Khan told Dawn.com that it would be premature to comment without reading the order, given the current ambiguity around what provision Imran Khan was disqualified under.
“It is nonetheless a silly verdict — it would have been rendered meaningless under Article 62(1)(f), as the ECP isn’t a court of law,” he said.
“Left to the even more limited parameters of Article 63, the ECP’s decision can only be justified as part of the absurd sequence of events this country has seen since March, rather than any concrete reasoning of law.”
PTI’s official Twitter account, meanwhile, posted a photograph of a smiling Imran Khan holding his prayer beads, saying it was taken just moments before.
A four-member bench, headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja, announced the verdict at the ECP Secretariat in Islamabad.
The decision was taken by the five-member bench. However, the member from Punjab was not present for today’s announcement.
According to the verdict, legal proceedings will be initiated against Imran for misdeclaration.
Law minister presser
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar explained that in case there were objections to the conduct or election of an individual after their election, there were two remedies: approaching the election tribunal within 45 days of the election or disqualification as stated in Article 63-A beyond that period.
“The only remedy, in this case, was disqualification,” he said, accusing the PTI chief of taking “illegal steps” after his election.
The PML-N senator further maintained that all evidence in the case had been documentary, on the basis of which the ECP had found Imran involved in “corrupt practices”.
“The ECP has now referred his case for criminal proceedings against him in an appropriate court of law,” he added.
He also accused PTI “mobs of attacking cities” and consequently, creating trouble for people in the wake of the verdict. “What happened outside the ECP today — you did not even hold back from opening fire [at us].”
The minister said action was being taken over these alleged actions by PTI workers.
Addressing Imran Khan, he added, “Your personal theft has been caught and now you should face the law. Leading mobs, marching on cities and firing do not suit a national leader.”
Alongside Tarar, PML-N MNA Mohsin Shahnawaz said today was a “happy day” for the nation, which had attained “freedom from a fitna”.
“Today, the law has prevailed,” he added.
He also accused PTI workers of attempting a “deadly attack” on PML-N leaders, including him, outside the ECP today. “They even opened fire. I heard the shots as I was leaving,” he said, he would be filing a case against them and Imran.
Shahnawaz further said they had video footage of the alleged incident. “We will put you in jail even before the punishment in the case in the ECP is meted out to you,” he warned.
He said the PTI had the misconception that it could scare and pressurise them through such tactics.
“But we will not get scared or back down. This is the first case. We will file more cases. Today was only the first episode,” he added.
He resolved to give a befitting reply to “what happened at the ECP’s gates today”.
Imran, PTI ask people to ‘come out’ for rights
Meanwhile, a pre-recorded message from the PTI chief surfaced on social media wherein he urged people to “come out” for their rights.
“By the time my message reaches you, I might have been put behind the bars in an unfair case,” he said.
The ex-PM said fundamental rights and democracy had been “buried” in Pakistan.
“It is possible that I might not be able to address you again. I’ve been in the public for 50 years, I have neither flouted the law of Pakistan nor have I violated the Constitution.”
Imran said he always endeavoured to undertake his struggle in a peaceful manner. Whatever is being done today is aimed at barring me from leading the “Haqeeqi Azadi movement”, he added.
He said everyone had to come out for what he described as true freedom. “No nation gets served independence on a plate. Freedom always demands struggle.
“This is the time that all of you must come out for real independence,” he added.
Soon after the verdict was announced, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry, speaking to the media outside the ECP, asked the public to come out of their homes “for their rights”.
He called the ECP’s ruling a “slap on the face of 220 million people” and said, “Today is the beginning of the revolution”.
“Not just anyone cannot disqualify Imran Khan. Only the public can do that,” the PTI leader said.
He alleged that today’s verdict was “written by Nawaz Sharif and signed by his servants”.
“People disapprove of this decision.”
Alongside him, PTI leader Shahbaz Gill said the PTI would approach “every forum” against the verdict. “Imran has been disqualified from just one seat, not politics,” he added.
Prior to the ECP’s announcement, television footage showed PTI leaders climbing over the gate to reach the commission’s secretariat.
Other leaders were unequivocal in their condemnation as well, as they took to social media to air their fury.
Protests reported in various cities
There were reports of protests in Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi. Footage broadcast on DawnNewsTV showed tyres ablaze in Peshawar, while in Islamabad, police could be seen trying to rein in protesters. White mist, which appeared to be tear gas, could also be seen at one point.
PTI workers rallied at the Faizabad interchange, where police intercepted workers from going marching onto Islamabad. As protesters advanced, police started shelling.
PTI workers also blocked Murree Road with burning tyres.
In Rawalpindi, PTI workers demonstrated at Bakra Mandi Chowk, the constituency of Punjab minister Raja Basharat. Party workers raised slogans against the ECP’s decision.
‘ECP has delivered justice’
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif reacted to the ruling, saying that the ECP had delivered justice.
“The nation has seen that the post of prime minister was made a source of personal income through corrupt practices. The idol of “sadiq and ameen” has been shattered,” he tweeted, calling on Imran to bow down before the law instead of “contesting the law, wielding sticks, firing shots and bringing mobs”.
“No one is above the law,” he said.
“Pakistan’s first certified liar and certified thief disqualified with irrefutable evidence of theft,” PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz said.
She, however, added that the punishment shouldn’t end with just his disqualification.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari In a tweet said the ECP has found Imran Khan guilty of “corrupt practices”. “He now stands disqualified. He who would spread lies about alleged corruption of his political opponents has been caught red-handed,” he added.
In a media briefing about UAE aid said “this is just the beginning” and foresaw that “many such decisions will come”. He also suggested Imran retire and spend the rest of his days in Banigala.
Strict security measures were in place at the ECP’s office ahead of the ruling on Friday, with police, Rangers and Frontier Corps personnel deployed on site in large numbers.
Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Irfan Nawaz Memon also visited the office to review security arrangements.
On Thursday, the ECP sent a letter to Islamabad police, requesting “foolproof security” inside and outside the watchdog’s premises for the full day in order to “avoid any untoward incident”. The letter also requested that two security personnel in civil dress and a traffic warden be provided as well.
The ECP stressed that all necessary security arrangements be completed, particularly inside the ECP secretariat’s building, and the matter was treated as “most urgent”.
PTI criticises ECP ahead of ruling
Ahead of the verdict, PTI leaders intensified their criticism of the ECP, repeating their allegations of the electoral watchdog being partial against them.
Hours before the ruling, Imran’s lawyer, Barrister Ali Zafar addressed a press conference in Islamabad and outlined legal points in favour of the PTI chief.
He referred to a recent observation by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, wherein the top judge said handing down disqualification to a lawmaker for life under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution could only be done through a declaration by a court of law.
“Since the ECP is not a court, it cannot issue the declaration,” the lawyer contended.
Moreover, he said, there was no court ruling declaring that Imran was not “sadiq” and “ameen” (truthful and righteous). In fact, he continued, an earlier court ruling concluded that allegations of Imran not being “sadiq” and “ameen” were baseless.
“When there was no such court ruling against Imran, what authority did the [NA] speaker have to forward the reference to the ECP for proceedings under Article 62(1)(f)?” he questioned.
Moreover, the lawyer pointed out, if the ECP had to take any action against Imran in the matter, it should have been within the set timeframe of 120 days after the PTI chief submitted the details of his assets in 2018. The Elections Act bound the ECP to take action within 120 days, he contended.
Zafar said he expected that the ECP’s decision today would be in line with the law.
Alongside him, PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi cited multiple instances from the past — including the “Sindh House saga”, the ECP’s proceedings in the prohibited funding case against the PTI and the electoral watchdog expressing inability to introduce electronic voting machines — as he built his case of the electoral watchdog allegedly being partial against the PTI.
Moreover, referring to the PTI’s win in July 17 by-polls in Punjab and recently held by-elections on NA seats, Qureshi said when the PTI chief’s rivals failed to beat him in political battlegrounds, they were attempting to “politically eliminate him through lawfare.
“And we wouldn’t want Imran to be eliminated through lawfare.”
Regarding the ECP’s anticipated ruling on the Toshakhana reference, he said he expected the institution to issue a verdict in line with its constitutional obligations and responsibilities. “That it will not allow anyone to try and push forward the minus-one formula.”
When asked about the PTI’s future course in case the ECP issued a verdict against Imran, Qureshi said the party would then consider what legal options it had.
Earlier, PTI leader Shireen Mazari alleged in a tweet on Friday that the reference was all about “political vendetta by [the] biased ECP, led by [a] quisling CEC.
“What [the] ECP should be pursuing is Toshakhana cars Asif Zardari and absconder Nawaz Sharif whisked away!”
Similarly, PTI leader Maleeka Bokhari tweeted: “A biased ECP will today announce verdict in [the] Toshakhana case. A politically motivated case is being pursued whilst corrupt politicians including Nawaz and Zardari have been granted NRO-2.”
Meanwhile, a hashtag in Urdu, translating to “Imran Khan our red line” was the top trend on Twitter in Pakistan on Friday morning, with PTI leaders and followers expressing their support for the former prime minister.
In an apparent reference to the day’s developments, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry tweeted: “Islamabad is currently presenting the image of a fort that is under siege by a large army. This is just the start of the war and they are already worried? When millions of people will surround [you], no escape route will be left. Don’t take matters to the point of no return.”
The reference was filed in August against Imran by the coalition government, for “not sharing details” of Toshakhana gifts and proceeds from their alleged sale. Lawmakers from the Pakistan Democratic Movement — the ruling alliance — had submitted the reference to National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who had subsequently forwarded it to Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja for further action.
Established in 1974, the Toshakhana is a department under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division and stores precious gifts given to rulers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats, and officials by heads of other governments and states and foreign dignitaries.
According to Toshakhana rules, gifts/presents and other such materials received by persons to whom these rules apply shall be reported to the Cabinet Division.
However, the PTI, while in government, had been reluctant to disclose details of the gifts presented to Imran since he assumed office in 2018, maintaining that doing so would jeopardise international ties, even as the Pakistan Information Commission (PIC) ordered it to do so.
But later, in a written reply submitted to the ECP on September 8, Imran had admitted to selling at least four presents he had received during his tenure as the prime minister.
The former premier, in his reply, had maintained that the sale of the gifts that he had procured from the state treasury after paying Rs21.56 million fetched about Rs58m. One of the gifts included a graff wristwatch, a pair of cuff links, an expensive pen and a ring while the other three gifts included four Rolex watches.
The reference against Imran was filed by MNA Barrister Mohsin Nawaz Ranjha carrying signatures of lawmakers Agha Hassan Baloch, Salahudeen Ayubi, Ali Gohar Khan, Syed Rafiullah Agha and Saad Waseem Sheikh and it was subsequently forwarded to CEC Raja.
In their disqualification reference, MNAs from the ruling alliance included documentary evidence to corroborate their claims against the ex-premier and sought his disqualification under Sections 2 and 3 of Article 63 of the Constitution, read with Article 62(1)(f).
Article 62(1)(f) says: “A person shall not be qualified to be elected or chosen as a member of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) unless […] he is sagacious, righteous and non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law.”
Article 63(2) says: “If any question arises whether a member of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) has become disqualified from being a member, the Speaker or, as the case may be, the Chairman shall, unless he decides that no such question has arisen, refer the question to the Election Commission within thirty days and should he fail to do so within the aforesaid period it shall be deemed to have been referred to the Election Commission.”
While, Article 63(3) reads: “The Election Commission shall decide the question within ninety days from its receipt or deemed to have been received and if it is of the opinion that the member has become disqualified, he shall cease to be a member and his seat shall become vacant.”
The Toshakhana case
Last year, the PIC had accepted an application by Islamabad-based journalist Rana Abrar Khalid and directed the Cabinet Division to “provide the requested information about the gifts received by [then] prime minister Imran from foreign head of states, head of governments and other foreign dignitaries … description/specification of each gift, information about the gifts retained by the PM and the Rules under which gifts thus received are retained by him”.
The Cabinet Division was told to share the required information within 10 working days and upload it on the official website as well.
Subsequently, the Cabinet Division had challenged the PIC order in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), claiming that it was “illegal, without lawful authority”. The then-government took the stance that the disclosure of any information related to Toshakhana jeopardises international ties.
In April this year, the IHC had directed Deputy Attorney General Arshad Kayani to ensure the implementation of the PIC order to publicise details of the gifts presented to former prime minister Imran by heads of states since he assumed office in August 2018.