The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday declared the by-poll held on February 19 in NA-75 Sialkot-IV constituency as void and ordered fresh election in the entire constituency on March 18.
The ECP issued a short order, signed by the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja and the four commission members, Justice (retd) Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi, Justice (retd) Mrs Irshad Qaisar, Nisar Ahmed Durrani and Shah Muhamad Jatoi.
"This Commission in exercise of powers under Article 218(3) the Constitution read with section 9(1) of the Elections Act. 2017, declares the poll held on 19.02.2021 in the subject constituency (NA-75, Sialkot-IV) as void and orders fresh poll/re-poll in the entire constituency on 18th March," it said.
The order was issued after hearing a case filed by Syeda Nosheen Iftikhar, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) candidate in by-election for verification of 23 missing polling stations results. Ali Asjad Malhi was the candidate of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
The ECP said the election in the constituency had not been conducted in a transparent manner, incidents of murders, firing and injuries, bad law and order situation while other circumstances led to make the process of result doubtful.
“From the perusal of available record produced by the parties, the Returning Officer as well as collected by the Commission through different sources, we have come to the conclusion that conducive environment was not available for the candidates,” the order said.
“Voters of the constituency and the election in the subject constituency has not been conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in a transparent manner, incidents of murders, firing and injuries, bad law and order situation in the subject constituency creating harassment for voters and other circumstances leading to make the process of result doubtful/unascertainable.”
Simultaneously with ordering the re-polling, the ECP while taking notice of the negligence in duty in the NA-75 by-poll, summoned the inspector general of the Punjab police (IGP) and the provincial chief secretary to personally appear before the commission on March 4.
The commission has also decided to take action against the presiding officers, who went missing after the voting. The ECP ordered the authorities concerned to expel the commissioner and the regional police officer of Gujranwala from the constituency.
The commission asked the federal and the Punjab governments to suspend Deputy Commissioner Sialkot Zeeshan Javed Lashari and District Police Officer Asad Alvi. It also ordered the establishment division to transfer the deputy commissioner and the DPO Sialkot.
The commission also ordered for the transfer of the assistant commissioner and deputy superintended of police (DSP) Daska and DSP Sambarial. The ECP directed the federal and the provincial governments not to appoint all these officers on any election duty in the future.
The by-election on February 19 in the constituency was marred by incidents of rigging and clashes between the voters and supporters of rival parties — the PTI and the PML-N. The violence rose to an extent that it claimed the lives of two people, besides injuring several others.
On the next day of the election, the ECP withheld the announcement of the result and ordered an inquiry into the missing staff at some polling stations. The Punjab election commissioner also expressed disappointment at the lack of cooperation from the police and district administration.
During the ECP hearing on Thursday, PML-N's counsel Salman Akram Raja argued that a “conspiracy of rigging” had started before the polling day. He added that Despite the ECP ban, Zulfiqar Virk was made deputy superintended of police (DSP) in the constituency.
The counsel pointed out that the ECP had ordered for the removal of the DSP, but instead, an superintendent was made in charge of security for the entire election and in the new notification Zulfiqar’s Virk name was written as Zulfiqar Ali.
“Presiding officers go missing to end my client’s lead [in the vote count],” the lawyer said adding that after doing all the calculations, new Form 45 were filled. The CEC asked if the PML-N had won in all the polling stations except the 20, Raja said “PML-N's victory … is by a very small margin.”
Lawyer for the PTI candidate told the ECP that there was a conspiracy to keep people away from the polling stations. There were widespread irregularities. The PTI’s lawyer requested the ECP to release NA-75 by-election results.
PML-N welcomes re-vote
Talking to the media after the hearing, a PML-N spokesperson welcomed the ECP ruling. However, the PTI said Malhi will "exercise his legal right" and file the appeal against ECP's decision in the Supreme Court.
In a tweet following the ECP ruling, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Special Assistant to Punjab Chief Ministeron Information, said that the party has certain reservations about the Election Commission's decision regarding the Daska by-polls.
"We will approach the Supreme Court and appeal the decision. The people of Daska decided in PTI's favour. It is incomprehensible that a victorious candidate be prevented from representing his constituency," Awan said.
According to sources, Prime Minister Imran Khan has also approved the decision to challenge the ECP ruling after receiving a briefing on the matter from Special Assistant on Youth Affairs Usman Dar. Imran directed Dar and the PTI’s legal team to approach the court.
Earlier, speaking at the ECP offices after the hearing, Information Minister Shibli Faraz had told reporters that their legal team would review the detailed order and decide the future course of action accordingly.
Speaking alongside Faraz, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Youth Affairs Usman Dar said that everyone knew that PML-N wanted re-polling in 20 polling stations. “PML-N disputed Daska by-election under an organised conspiracy,” he added.
The PML-N welcomed the decision. “We are grateful to ECP. This decision will be written in history,” Muhammad Zubair, the spokesperson for Maryam Nawaz said. “We also have to monitor the presiding officers," he added. Nosheen Iftikhar thanked the people and her party who trusted her.
(WITH INPUT FROM APP)