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 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.

Police officers try to stop the supporters of PTI before the ECP disqualified Imran Khan on Friday.

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 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: 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 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.”

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 the announcement.

According to the verdict, legal proceedings will be initiated against Imran for misdeclaration.

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