The Lahore High Court (LHC) has greenlighted PTI chief Imran Khan’s decision to run for by-elections in the NA-108 and NA-118 constituencies and rejected objections of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) as well as a plea from PML-N candidate challenging former prime minister’s nomination papers.
LHC’s election appellate tribunal comprising Justice Shahid Waheed heard the appeal, filed by Dr Shezra Mansab Kharal, a candidate of the PML-N from the NA-118 constituency.
During the proceedings, Imran's counsel Barrister Ali Zafar argued that the returning officer's decision to reject the nomination papers of his client from NA-108 was illegal, adding that the PTI chief’s nomination papers were accepted in other eight constituencies with the same details.
He prayed the court to set aside the decision of the returning officer and allow his client to contest from the NA-108 constituency.
The counsel for Dr Shezra Mansab argued that the returning officer had accepted the nomination papers of the PTI chief from the NA-118 constituency despite the fact that the papers were not attested by an oath commissioner, as required by the law.
The tribunal observed that the Supreme Court had already declared that nomination papers could not be rejected on the ground that papers were not attested by the oath commissioner, noting that that the failure to do so could be corrected.
However, the PML-N’s counsel contended that it could not be corrected and added that Imran Khan did not mention gifts received from Toshakhana in the FBR returns. He submitted that the gifts received in 2021 were mentioned in the returns whereas no details of gifts were provided in the returns, filed in 2019 and 2020.
The tribunal said that it could have been well possible that no expensive items were received from Toshakhana during the said period, observing that the gifts might have been donated.
It added it was not necessary to show them in the nomination papers in this scenario.
Subsequently, after hearing detailed arguments of the parties, the tribunal dismissed the appeal against the acceptance of Imran Khan’s nomination papers from NA-118 and also allowed him to contest by-polls from NA-108 after setting aside the decision of the returning officer.
The petition said that it was astonishing that returning officer rejected the nomination papers on the sole ground that the appellant has disclosed the value of the moveable assets without furnishing details of the assets despite the fact that no objector had either raised objection on it or demanded such details.
It contended that details pertaining to the items of furniture and of personal use do not require to be shared with such specificity, adding that only the value of such articles was to be shared.
In no return filed under the Election Act, 2017 do the returns mention the number of chairs, tables, beds, TV, perfumes, watches, rings, ties and clothes owned by a person but rather the value thereof.
It emphasised that the appellant has disclosed the value of the furniture, fittings and items for personal use in the statement of assets and liabilities submitted before the ECP in the gazette of Pakistan on March 12,2019, March 26,2020 and May 24,2021 in the same manner and ECP has been accepting the same.
He submitted that this is also the case in the tax returns of the appellant. The returning officer has also not understood that the two challans of Rs29,14,500 and Rs.1,93,000 although not required were nonetheless submitted by the appellant only to explain the increase in the value of personal assets between June 2021 and June 2022.
He contended that on one hand, the returning officer dismissed the objection that the candidate has concealed the items received by him from Toshakhana by holding that “with regard to the objection of Toshakhana items, the objector could not produce any certified documents” but rejected the nomination papers on an extraneous grounds that “the entry of precious items is dubious and if allowed may provide the candidate a floodgate to skip through scrutiny by the public about their assets”.
The rejection of nomination papers on such an assumption is beyond the jurisdiction of the respondent returning officer, the petitioner said.
He contended that the objections were properly responded to through a written reply.
Earlier this month, PTI Chairman Imran Khan rolled up his sleeves to up the ante against the PML-N-led ruling coalition from all nine general seats of the National Assembly and submitted his nomination papers as a lone player.
The nomination papers were submitted in all nine constituencies that fell vacant after the NA speaker accepted the resignations of 11, including two seats reserved for women, out of 131 PTI lawmakers.
According to the ECP schedule, the by-polls on the nine NA seats would be contested on September 25.
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