Pakistan

Partial or complete re-poll in NA-75?: ECP expected to deal with multiple questions

ISLAMABAD: After Prime Minister Imran Khan showed his willingness to accept fresh elections in areas falling under 20 polling stations of the NA-75 Daska constituency, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must now decide whether to order partial or complete re-polling for this National Assembly seat.

After the prime minister’s tweet -- stating that he would request the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidate to ask for a re-poll in 20 polling stations -- the opposition has been crying hoarse that PTI nominee Ali Asjid Malhi is not averse to this eventuality. Following his post, a number of PTI leaders also endorsed the same idea.

The returning officer (RO) in his report submitted to the ECP has also recommended that a re-poll should be held in those 14 polling stations where the results were “dubious and questionable”. It argued that the PML-N candidate Syeda Nosheen Iftikhar had not objected to the results of the remaining 340 polling stations at the time of receipt of the vote-count by the RO.

In Thursday’s hearing, the ECP is likely to take a final decision on the question of a re-poll and a host of other matters. It is not expected that the proceedings will be prolonged as the issue involved is apparently not too complicated and complex -- particularly after the RO has been heard and his report scrutinized by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and the two ECP members.

While the PTI has agreed to a re-poll in those selected areas that generated controversy and chaos due to the ‘disappearance’ of the presiding officers (POs) for several hours, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has called for a fresh election for the entire constituency.

There are also some other questions that are before the ECP to answer. The RO told the ECP that the results of those polling stations where the POs went missing for a long period and later gave lame excuses for their disappearance, were prima facie tampered with. Second, there were complaints of a deliberate slowdown of polling in certain areas. Third, indiscriminate firing was resorted to outside some polling stations by gunmen. Fourth, police remained a silent spectator to acts of lawlessness. Fifth, the top police and administration officials, including the inspector general police, Gujranwala commissioner, Sialkot deputy commissioner and others remained inaccessible to the ECP when attempts were made to contact them for assistance in tracing the missing presiding officers.

Why were the presiding officers quizzed by the RO as part of an inquiry ordered by the ECP -- according to the RO report -- “found puzzled and terrified” and why did they give “lame excuses that transport [having[ gone off road, WhatsApp not functioning etc.”? Who was responsible for frightening the POs? Why were the replies of the POs “stereotype that they completed the counting process by 10:00pm to 10:30pm and started back journey to the RO office on transport provided by the ECP in the escort of police but due to fog, they reached the RO office at about 4:30 am and most of them started their phone batteries were low and they were having no reply in response to the question that they were supposed to send snapshots of the result through Whatsapp but they did not do the same” in the words of the RO report?

Under the Elections Act, 2017, the ECP enjoys sweeping powers to punish those violating the law and the entire administrative and police machinery is placed under its control and at its disposal to hold the electoral process fairly, honestly and impartially. It provides severe punishment to those tampering with ballot boxes and papers.

Section 88 says the PO will stop the poll and inform the RO that he has done so if vote casting is, at any time, interrupted or obstructed for reasons beyond his control that it cannot be resumed during the fixed polling hours; any ballot box used is unlawfully taken out of his custody, or is accidentally or intentionally destroyed, or is lost or is damaged or tampered with to such an extent that the result cannot be ascertained.

Where a poll has been so stopped, the RO will immediately report the circumstances to the ECP, which will direct a fresh election at that station unless it is satisfied that the result has been determined by the polling that has already taken place at that station, along with the result of the polling at other stations.

Section 99 says the RO will seal the tamper-evident bags provided to him for the purpose after putting in the bags the packets containing the ballot papers each of which will be sealed with the PO’s seal or, if opened by the RO, with the RO’s seal; the packets containing the counterfoils of issued ballot papers, the marked copies of the electoral rolls used in the poll, the ballot paper account, the tendered ballot papers included in or excluded from the count; the tendered votes list, and the challenged ballot papers included in or excluded from the count; and the challenged votes list; and the spoilt ballot papers.

Tamper-evident bag means a specially designed bag approved by the ECP, having one or more indicators which, if breached, can reasonably be expected to provide visible evidence that tampering has occurred.

If as a result of an enquiry, the RO is found guilty of negligence or a willful act, the competent authority on complaint of the ECP will proceed against him for breach of official duty.

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