Four parties, the PML-N, the PTI, the MQM and the PSP, boycotted the recounting to votes in NA-240, Karachi, accusing the returning officer (RO) of failing to provide them with Forms 45 and 46 and breaking the seal of the ballot bags.
However, the PPP – which had won the by-election on April 29 -- the banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and a few independent candidates, remained present at the recounting, which was ordered by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on the PML-N’s request.
According to sources, the results of some 60 polling stations were re-tallied on Thursday. They added that recount of votes of all the 276 polling stations might take two more days after which the return officer would announce the result.
The sources said that the vote tally of different candidates changed after the recount. A total of 649 approved votes were rejected in 60 polling stations, while 34 rejected votes were added to the tally, the sources added.
In 1 to 55 polling stations, 134 votes polled for PPP’s Qadir Mandokhel's and 194 of PML-N’s Muftah Ismail, 44 of the banned TLP’s Nazir Ahmed, 29 of PSP’s Mustafa Kamal, 108 of MQM's Hafiz Mohammad Mursalin and 140 votes of independent candidate were rejected. PTI candidate Amjad Iqbal Afridi got an additional 34 votes, which were previously rejected.
Earlier, in a letter to the returning officer, the parties wrote: “For want of non-provision of Form 46 and denial to allow access to the counterfoil of ballot paper, we cannot participate in [the] subject proceedings [recounting of votes].”
Read more: ECP withholds NA-249 results
The parties pointed out in the letter that “...the first bag [of ballot papers] lying on [the] table was without a seal”.
PML-N candidate Miftah Ismail wrote a separate letter to the chief election commissioner, asking him to “temporarily halt the exercise immediately until instructions are given to the learned RO to follow the law and precedence and allow for a fair and transparent audit”.
He added that the RO was only allowing a recount of “valid” votes and checking of the invalid votes. “He is insisting on not giving Forms 46, which were not given to us before either, and not letting us examine counterfoils or unused ballots. Almost all parties had boycotted the recount due to this attitude”.
The PML-N candidate maintained that “there was no precedent of recounting, not including the counting of used ballots or the checking of Forms 46 or of counterfoil signatures or seals”.
He claimed that the first bag opened by the RO did not have a seal on it. He further said according to a PSP representative, most of the 25 bags brought into the room by the RO’s team did not have seals.
“Section 90(13) mandates the provision of Forms 46. Section 100 of the Election Act, 2017 provides the right to examine all election material maintained by ECP/RO in terms of Section 99,” the letter read.
Later while talking to reporters, Miftah said the RO had refused to give the Forms 45 and 46. “Our request for a full audit was also turned down,” he added. He also alleged that 167 forms did not have the signatures of the presiding officers.
“Unused ballots were not counted and signatures weren’t shown either,” he claimed. “When we asked why there was no seal on the first ballot bag brought in, we were told that it might have fallen down,” he added.
Miftah said he was not alone in boycotting the recount and other parties were doing it too. “One seat makes no difference, but it is a matter of the sanctity of the vote.”
PTI candidate Amjad Iqbal Afridi claimed the by-election had been “planned”. He said they were not being provided with Form 46, adding that the party would not let the PPP influence the results. “There should be a re-poll in the constituency,” he added.
The PTI candidate also filed an application, urging the ECP to declare the by-election void and “illegal due to pre-poll rigging, election day rigging and post-poll rigging”.
“The PPP favoured its candidate through unfair means and adopted all tactics of pre-poll rigging, election day rigging and post-poll rigging in order to win the by-election at any cost.”
MQM candidate Muhammad Mursaleen said the party had boycotted the recount process as there was no seal on the ballot bag. “The ballot bag had been tied with a rope,” he added.
PSP leader Hafeezuddin accused the RO of siding with those who rigged the polls. “The ballot bags were already open before the recounting began,” he added. “Form 46 was not given to any candidate.”
The ECP reportedly contacted the boycotting candidates, but they refused to be a part of the process. PPP candidate Qadir Khan Mandokhail, who won the by-election the first time around, said: “Defeat is in PML-N’s fate, regardless of what they do.”
He admitted that the recount was delayed by two hours, adding that the representatives of political parties, except for four of them, were present during the process. “Why is Form 46 an issue when there’s a recount under way?” he asked. “It will be generated afresh.”
Provincial information minister Nasir Shah said the PPP’s victory was not being accepted. Terming the boycott of the recount a “drama”, Shah said it is an attempt to pressure and coerce the ECP.
Senior PPP leader Shehla Raza said the PML-N had “escaped the recount because it feared its imminent defeat.” She asked the party to accept the results. “It is as if the PML-N wants the electoral record to set up its own election cell,” she added. “First, they rejected the results and now, they are making the recount controversial.”
Despite the boycott, the recounting that commenced at Government College of Technology, SITE continued. The RO told the media that Miftah was demanding a “re-assessment of the documents” which could not take place here. “Therefore, the recounting has been started in the presence of the winning PPP candidate and others,” he added.
According to the returning officer, it would be difficult to complete the process of counting 73,471 votes cast in 276 polling stations of the constituency in a single-day. “Each and every vote will be re-checked in the presence of all candidates of different political parties and their chief polling agents. We will try to finish the task in a day, but I believe it will take more time,” he added.
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