Khan leads election rally despite threats

-ECP admits PTI’s plea against imposition of Section 144 in Lahore amid elections campaign
-Electoral Watchdog asks Interim Punjab government to submit comprehensive report regarding restrictions
-LHC suspends Imran Khan, Fawad Chaudhry’s arrest warrants in ECP contempt case

From Abid Usman

LAHORE: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan on Monday brought out an election rally despite security and arrest threats in Lahore.
The party announced to kick off its election campaign from Monday (yesterday) after cancelling the rally twice in the last week following the imposition of Section 144 in the city.
It is important to note that the PTI chairman has been seeking exemptions on the pretext of security. An Islamabad police team has also reached Lahore to arrest Khan in judge threatening case.
According to details, Khan set out in a bullet-proof vehicle from his Zaman Park residence to lead the rally that culminated at Data Darbar.
The local administration allowed the PTI after the party leadership’s promise of adhering to the government’s directives. They submitted an affidavit, assuring the city’s administration of its full cooperation with them, the police and the security officials.
The former ruling party also assured the authority that it would comply with the concerned law about the usage of the sound system. Speeches against the state institutions and judiciary will not be allowed in the rally, agreed the PTI.
The PTI would be responsible if public property is demanded during the rally, read the affidavit.
On Sunday, Khan, who was ousted from the government after losing a no-confidence vote on April 9 last year, postponed his election rally after the interim government refused to lift Section 144.
This would be the first rally that Khan would lead in more than four months as he was mobilising the party from his Zaman Park residence in Punjab’s capital. The PTI chief had been at home as he was “recovering” from an injury he sustained last year.
Khan was shot in the legs on November 3 as he waved to crowds from a truck-mounted container while leading a protest march to Islamabad to pressure the government into announcing an early election — but it was cut short in Rawalpindi. The general elections in Punjab are scheduled to be held on April 30, while the date for the polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is yet to be announced as Governor Ghulam Ali has not made a decision yet.

Remarking on the rally’s strength, PTI Senior Vice President Fawad Chaudhry said: “Watch the scenes of the rally in Lahore at this time and understand that stopping Imran Khan is like inviting people’s wrath.”

Talking to the media before the rally kicked off, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi said: “I will say to the administration we have to remain peaceful, have remained peaceful and don’t want chaos. We have no intention of destroying the peace and this is not our party’s thinking or plan of action.”

He requested the administration to “cease putting up obstacles” for the rally along its route. Qureshi said the PTI chairman would address the rally at its conclusion, saying that an “important announcement” would be made in it.

He said the rally would kick off from Zaman Park, move towards Data Darbar and conclude back at the PTI chief’s Lahore residence.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission of Pakistan considered the PTI’s request regarding its Lahore rally and Section 144’s imposition and decided to summon a report from the Punjab government.

It said a letter was issued to the chief secretary saying that the commission was bound to conduct transparent and peaceful elections under the Constitution. Thus, a comprehensive report should be submitted to the electoral body by Tuesday after considering the PTI’s request so that further plan of action could be considered, it added.

Besides, the Lahore High Court (LHC) Monday suspended the bailable arrest warrants of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) top leaders — Imran Khan and Fawad Chaudhry — in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) contempt case.

LHC’s three-member Rawalpindi bench — comprising Justice Chaudhry Abdul Aziz, Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan, and Justice Mirza Waqas Rauf — issued the verdict on a petition filed against the ECP’s decision.

The court ordered the election commission to continue the proceedings within its jurisdiction as the LHC would not interfere in the proceedings of the electoral body.

The court said that the decision of the election commission can be challenged by any of the parties. After the ECP’s decision, the petitioners can approach the court, it added.

The election commission had last Tuesday issued bailable arrest warrants for the two PTI leaders in the case pertaining to “contemptuous” remarks against Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja.

A four-member bench — comprising ECP members Nisar Ahmed Durrani, Shah Mohammad Jatoi, Babar Hasan Bharwana, and Justice (retd) Ikram Ullah Khan — issued the order following the non-appearance of the leaders in the case proceedings.

“Consequently, in the circumstances of the case, we have left with no alternative except to issue a bailable warrant of arrest against respondent in the sum of Rs50,000/- (fifty thousand) with two sureties in the like amount each,” the verdict issued by the ECP read.