The Supreme Court has ordered verification of voters in NA-125 (Lahore-VIII), the constituency won by the incumbent railways minister, Khawaja Saad Rafique, in the 2013 general elections.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, gave the ruling after hearing the minister’s appeal against an election tribunal’s decision.
The bench directed the Election Commission of Pakistan to send counterfoils of NA-125 ballots to the National Database & Registration Authority for thumbprints verification.
Rafique had defeated Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Hamid Khan in the 2013 elections, but Khan challenged the result before an election tribunal.
The tribunal declared Rafique’s elections null and void, and ordered re-polling in the constituency. The minister, however, approached the SC against the tribunal’s verdict. The court ordered that Khan, the respondent in the case, would bear the expenses incurred during verification of the thumb impressions. The bench also observed that after NADRA’s report, they would pass an appropriate order.
Chief Justice Jamali observed that the elections were held on May 11, 2013, and asked if conducting the scrutiny after a long time would not spoil the sanctity of the vote.
Khan’s counsel Ahmed Awais had earlier contended that there were 43 Form-XIVs that did not have either signatures, thumb impressions or CNIC numbers of the voters, adding that the forms were missing from 20 polling stations.
He also said 11 polling stations showed 100% polling, arguing that the polling officers were negligent in performing their duties.
Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed inquired if the missing forms would materially affect the results of NA-125, to which Awais said the case was not of ‘numerical question’.
Rafique’s counsel Khawaja Harris contended that according to the tribunal’s verdict, 100% polling was observed only at one polling station.
He, however, did not object when the chief justice proposed sending the ballots’ counterfoils to NADRA for verifying thumb impressions.
Later, Rafique told the media that his party wanted the rigging issue to be settled once and for all. “Although our lawyer could have objected to the verification, as there is no such legal standing, we accepted the decision with an open heart.”
He said he had no objection to voter verification, but he expressed concern over the ‘substandard electoral material’ provided by the ECP during the last general elections.
“It has been established that the magnetic ink was substandard and was not even available at some of the polling stations,” he claimed, as he questioned if the thumb impressions would be verifiable after a lapse of more than two and a half years.
PTI’s petition dismissed
In a related development, an election tribunal has dismissed a petition claiming that the NA-122 (Lahore-V) by-elections were rigged by transferring hundreds of votes from the constituency. PTI leader Aleem Khan’s petition — termed ‘non-maintainable’ — alleged a transfer of 30,500 votes ahead of the by-election.
The PML-N’s counsel contended that the documents attached with the petition were not attested and the election petition was not filed according to the Representatives of People Act 1976.
National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq of the PML-N had defeated PTI Chairman Imran Khan in the last general elections, following which Khan had challenged Sadiq’s victory. Subsequently, an election tribunal ordered re-election in the constituency.
Aleem termed the tribunal’s decision “nothing short of a joke”. He vowed to challenge the decision in the superior courts, while also hinting at the possibility of staging a protest.
“With no documents to substantiate over 22,000 votes transferred in and out of the constituency, the decision by the tribunal has put its own reputation at stake.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2016.
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