Islamabad, Pakistan – In a unanimous decision, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has found former Prime Minister Imran Khan guilty of “corrupt practices” and disqualified him from parliament membership.
The disqualification notice was issued by the Pakistan election body in the Toshakhana case for hiding proceeds from the sale of gifts he received from foreign leaders. Following the poll body’s decision, protests erupted across Pakistan with Imran Khan’s supporters taking to the streets in major cities.
Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party immediately rejected Friday’s decision and called on its supporters to take to the streets.
Imran Khan’s supporters blocked the Islamabad expressway near Iqbal town on Friday. In response, the police lobbed tear gas at the protesters.
In Faizabad, protesters clashed with the police. A video of the incident shows tear gas being lobbed to disperse the protesters.
Faisal Fareed Chaudhry, part of PTI’s legal team, told that they were awaiting a detailed verdict before filing an appeal in the Islamabad High Court. He also said they plan to challenge the commission’s ability to make such a verdict. “We’re going to challenge their jurisdiction, their mandate in making this decision,” he said.
The lawsuit against Khan was filed in August by a member of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), alleging that the former prime minister bought gifts from foreign dignitaries from the state’s gift depository (also called Toshakhana) but failed to disclose the assets. in statements submitted to the commission.
Chaudhry called the ECP’s decision “embarrassing” and a “slap in the face” for the people of Pakistan.
“This verdict is not an attack on Imran Khan alone. It is an attack on the constitution of Pakistan and its people,” he told reporters.
Khan, who was removed from his post in April by a parliamentary no-confidence vote, accused the commission of bias and branded its head, Sikandar Sultan Raja, of prejudice against him and his party.
After removing his government, Khan holds rallies across the country demanding early elections. His narrative won him a lot of support as the PTI won large numbers in the by-elections held in July and October.
The duration of the disqualification was not immediately clear. Kanwar Dilshad, the commission’s former federal secretary, told that he believed the verdict meant Khan was “disqualified for now”.
“My view is that the verdict is valid for this session of parliament, which will last until August 2023. It means that he will not be able to sit in the assembly, even though he won the recent elections,” he said.
Dilshad further added that the commission has a broad mandate that allows the institution to hear a case related to corrupt practices and send it to court in case of a guilty verdict.
The Toshakhan controversy
The Toshakhana controversy erupted last year when it was revealed that Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi had bought gifts from Toshakhana and later sold them in the market at discounted prices.
The PTI, which was the ruling party at the time, initially expressed reluctance to reveal details of the gifts given to Khan, claiming it could potentially jeopardize Pakistan’s foreign relations.
The Gift Depository is a government department created in the 1970s that holds gifts given to monarchs, politicians, government officials and functionaries by heads of state and other foreign dignitaries.
Toshakhana rules state that all donations must be submitted to the department. However, they can be purchased later. Although selling gifts is not strictly illegal, many consider it unethical and morally wrong.
The case filed against Khan states that the former prime minister received a total of 58 boxes containing various items during his tenure in office.
PMLN petitioner Mohsin Nawaz Ranjha said the former prime minister was legally bound to declare all assets belonging to him, his wife and family members to the commission at the end of every financial year.
The link claimed that failure to do so would make Khan “dishonest”, thereby disqualifying him from participating in parliamentary politics for life under the Pakistani constitution.
Khan was also accused of “deliberately” hiding the gifts he bought from Toshakhana, but later admitted to selling the gifts without disclosing the details to the commission.
In a landmark ruling five years ago, the Supreme Court declared the then prime minister and PLMN chief Nawaz Sharif “dishonest”, resulting in his removal from office and a lifetime ban from parliamentary politics.
Lahore-based political analyst Mehmal Sarfraz said the commission’s decision had damaged Khan “politically”.
“His image has always been that of an honest man, but now he will be left with the label of ‘corrupt practice’. Of course, that doesn’t mean his supporters will buy it because PTI has been going after the ECP and the Chief Election Commissioner for some time now, so they will see it as a ‘biased’ decision,” she added.
However, Sarfaraz noted that “when Nawaz Sharif was disqualified, the PTI celebrated because it benefited them.
“Questions may now be asked whether Khan can remain the party chief or not as Sharif has not been allowed to continue leading his party after his disqualification.”
Legal expert Hasnaat Malik also painted a potentially troubling picture for the PTI chief in the coming days.
“In the verdict, the ECP referred the case to the trial court. However, if Khan is found guilty of corrupt practices in court, he can be jailed for a maximum of three years,” he said.