ISLAMABAD - Non-bailable arrest warrants issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chief, Imran Khan, last week has once again raised the question about the commission’s power to initiate proceedings in a contempt of court case.

Is it a legal lacuna, which the PTI has been exploiting to drive advantage or is it the legal aides of Imran Khan misleading their political boss? Or, is it a game of ping-pong that the PTI is playing as part of a strategy to gain time for greater political gain?

Legal aides of Imran Khan insist that the ECP was not empowered to initiate proceedings against him in contempt of court case; therefore, its orders to issue a non-bailable arrest warrant would be challenged in the superior court.

The ECP on Thursday last issued arrest warrant for Imran Khan for his repeatedly failing to appear for the hearing and for failing to send a written apology to the ECP for his absence in the court.

The ECP in its order held that the PTI chairman be arrested and brought to the next hearing of the case filed by the PTI dissident and one of the party’s founding members, Akbar S Babar, on October 26th.

According to PTI Spokesperson Naeemul Haq, the party is set to challenge the warrants in the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

Interestingly, this is not the first time the ECP has issued arrest warrants against Imran Khan, and PTI has always challenged its orders in the IHC seeking to suspend the commission’s orders against the party chief.

Earlier on September 14th, the ECP had issued bailable arrest warrants for Imran Khan following his failure to show up for the contempt of court proceeding, which was later suspended by the IHC on the PTI’s petition.

In August, the ECP had issued a second show-cause notice to Imran Khan after he failed to reply to the earlier notice regarding the contempt of court proceedings against him.

Imran Khan had initially challenged maintainability of the contempt petition and raised objections over the ECP’s jurisdiction to initiate contempt proceedings against him; the commission, however, declared on August 10th that it had the legal right to hear the contempt case.

It had then issued a formal show-cause notice to the PTI chairman, asking him to submit a reply by August 23rd.

The PTI chief’s counsel Babar Awan had then appeared before the five-member ECP bench and pleaded that they wanted to challenge the ECP’s judgement regarding the maintainability of the contempt petition and hence, should be granted some time to do so.

Imran Khan had accused the ECP of being biased in the foreign-funding case following which his counsel had tendered an apology with the commission.

However, the PTI chairman in a television interview later said that his counsel had tendered an apology in his personal capacity and that he had not apologised.

On the other hand, a spokesperson of the ECP rejected the argument of the PTI’s legal aides and told The Nation that the ECP had full power of exercising contempt of court right under Section 10 of the Election Act, 2017.

He said that the ECP had the same powers in the Peoples Representative Act, which had been incorporated in the Elections 2017 Act recently passed by the parliament after threadbare discussion by a parliamentary committee which also had PTI representation.

The spokesperson said that the ECP had similar right of contempt of court as the high court had under Article 204 of the Constitution.

He said that the ECP members had also the same right on the matter as the high court judges had on the subject of contempt of court.

The spokesperson was of the view that Imran Khan’s legal counsel and legal experts did not inform him about the actual situation, and due to this situation, confusion was created as first Imran Khan’s counsel rendered an apology and then the withdrawal from apology.

He said that when show cause notice was issued to Imran Khan there was no mention of apology or any regret in his reply, which was declared by the ECP as unsatisfactory and it issued his arrest warrant.

The spokesperson said that the confusion could be avoided on informing actual situation of case hearing to Imran Khan by his counsels.

He made it clear that the ECP had full right of contempt of court under Section 10 of new law, while it had similar power under the old ROPA law.