Imran Khan, Pakistan’s former Cricket World Cup-winning captain and ousted prime minister, faces the potential loss of the bat as the electoral symbol for his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party. This possibility arises following a warning from the Election Commission of Pakistan on Thursday (Nov 23), stating that PTI must conduct intra-party polls within three weeks, or risk forfeiting its electoral symbol.
But since Imran Khan’s supporters pulled off a ‘mini-intifada’ in May against Pakistan’s powerful military, a number of high-profile exits from the PTI have rocked the boat of populism Khan was sailing in.
Since August 2023, Khan has been in custody following a conviction in a corruption case, among dozens of cases lodged against him since he was ousted from power after a parliamentary no-trust vote in April 2022.
Imran Khan’s potential loss of Bat: What does it mean?
Pakistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in South Asia, with some of Imran Khan’s strongholds in the predominantly tribal Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province particularly backwards in terms of Human Development Indicators. Voters in these tribal areas identify Khan’s party primarily with its bat symbol. Given Khan’s acclaimed record as one of the finest cricketers Pakistan has ever produced, his party is identified with the Cricket Bat across Pakistan.
In fact, ‘Ballay pe thappa’ (Stamp on the Bat) was the defining rallying call for Khan’s supporters in 2018 when the PTI chief, then backed by Pakistan’s army-intelligence complex, managed to put together a coalition to be in Islamabad’s Prime Minister’s Office.
The loss of the bat may very well translate into a loss of identity for embattled Khan’s Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
How exactly can PTI lose its Bat symbol?
On August 3, 2023, just two days before Khan was arrested after a court sentenced him to three years in jail for illegally selling state gifts, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had warned PTI that it could be declared ineligible to obtain an election symbol if the intraparty elections are not organised.
According to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, the ECP mentioned in the notice that it had already served two notices to the PTI, asking the party to conduct intra-party polls, but it failed to do so.
The intra-party elections in PTI were reportedly due on June 13, 2021, but were not conducted.
On November 23, 2023, the ECP ordered the PTI to hold intra-party elections within 20 days or else it would lose bat as its poll symbol.