A returning officer (RO) has told the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that the presiding officers of 14 polling stations during February 19 by-polls at the NA-75 constituency apparently tempered the polls result and that ECP should hold a re-vote at these polling stations.
The RO made this statement on Tuesday while appearing before a three-member ECP committee, presided over by Chief Election Commission Sikandar Sultan Raja. The committee was hearing the PML-N’s application seeking a re-vote at the constituency that lies in Punjab’s Sialkot district.
The by-election was marred by incidents of rigging and clashes between the voters and supporters of the rival parties — the PTI and the PML-N. The violence rose to an extent that it claimed the lives of two persons, besides injuries to several others.
Some of the wrongdoings — like the disappearance of the election staff at nearly two dozen polling stations — were so unusual that the ECP had to concede that “it suspects rigging in NA-75 by-election.”
PML-N candidate Nausheen Iftikhar had later filed an application in view of delay in announcement of results by 23 polling stations and requested the ECP not to include results of these polling stations in the final results.
She had requested the PML-N’s polling agents at the 23 polling stations to send the form-45 and later submitted the forms of 18 polling stations. The PTI candidate Ali Asjad Malhi had, however, expressed satisfaction at the form-45 of the presiding officers and called for announcing the final result.
Submitting a report to the ECP committee, the RO urged the ECP not to announce final results of the election before a re-vote. He said on a minute review of the Forms-45, he found that the concerns raised by the PML-N candidate were justified.
He said on the order of the Punjab election commission he later summoned 20 presiding officers for an inquiry. During the investigation, he said he noticed that these presiding officers were anxious.
The presiding officers said the vote-counting process at the by-election concluded at 10:30pm on Friday and they could not make any contact with the ECP for hours as their cell phones had discharged.
The RO said by 3:37am, the presiding officers of 337 polling stations had submitted their results.
He said 20 presiding officers could not be contacted despite repeated attempts. These polling stations were in a radius of 30km to 40km.
The official said results of 4 out of the 20 polling stations were later cleared. Results of three polling stations were received on WhatsApp after some delay. He said the results of the polling stations 50, 47, 9 and 140 were identical
He said the presiding officers attributed the delay to fog or breaking down of their vehicles.
ECP Sindh member asked the RO if the presiding officers were trained and if they had the Met Office forecast about foggy weather. The RO relied that they were trained and that the weather was foggy for the past many days.
ECP Punjab member asked the RO if he tried to find out the location of the presiding officers through their cell phone record. The RO replied that he had called the district police officer (DPO) but his phone was powered off.
The CEC asked if the people involved in the firing incident were arrested. The RO said he had ordered the police to file a case against the people who resorted to violence during the by-polls.
PML-N’s counsel Salman Akram Raja said on the day of the by-poll the constituency was like a war zone but the Punjab inspector general police (IGP) and chief secretary were conspicuous by their absence.
“This is the first election in which 20 presiding officers disappeared simultaneously and then reappeared at the same time. It is not just about re-vote at 20 polling stations. There is a need to hold a re-election at the entire constituency,” Raja said.
PML-N candidate Nausheen Iftikhar claimed that a DSP ordered police to subject the PML-N workers to torture. “DSP Ahsan threatened that he would shoot me if I said a word. They dragged me by my arm. Now I want justice from the ECP,” she said.
The counsel for the PTI candidate Ali Asjad Malhi rejected the PML-N’s allegations. He said the opposition party at first claimed that it was winning the election with a lead of 3,000 votes. “If you were winning then why are you now calling for a re-election?” he asked.
He said Nausheen Iftikhar had not attached any attested documents with her applications. “It would be better if the PML-N had challenged the polls result at an election tribunal,” he said. Malhi said the RO has accepted that he had received results of 18 put of the 20 polling stations through WhatsApp.
The bench while asking the PTI candidate to submit its response – all evidence and record adjourned the hearing till Thursday. The ECP also asked its officials to provide the parties with the RO’s report.