The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Monday withheld official results of the Tando Muhammad Khan provincial seat by-poll (PS 53), taking serious note of Saturday’s assault on polling staff by candidate Waheeda Shah Bukhari.
Bukhari was declared the winner in the initial vote-count – but the situation now is far from a celebratory one for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate.
In addition to withholding the poll result, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (retd) Hamid Ali Mirza ordered that an FIR be registered against Bukhari, who was caught on camera slapping two women at polling station No. 16 at the Government Girls High School. “It was agreed without demur by the members of the ECP that the official result of the said constituency may be withheld till the completion of the inquiry,” said the official statement.
“The slapping incident shocked the whole nation,” observed members of the ECP. “We condemn the unruly behaviour of a person aspiring to represent the people of Pakistan.”
The CEC also directed the Provincial Election Commissioner Sindh to take necessary action. The ECP also stated that an FIR, No. 33/2012, had been registered against the accused at the local police station under section 86 (3) (b) of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1976. She has been charged with ‘disorderly conduct at polling station’, an offence punishable with three months imprisonment, Rs1,000 fine or both. It also warned that no one would be allowed to threaten or use force against the polling staff whose services were hired by the commission. It also expressed concern and disappointment over the failure of police personnel present to take action. Ali Asghar Siyal, the Returning Officer of the by-elections in the constituency, lodged the FIR.
“Today in the morning I received directives from the election commission to file a case against Bukhari,” Siyal told the media. “When I reached the polling station, there was a crowd of people gathered there. Shagufta Memon, the assistant presiding officer who was slapped, was weeping,” he stated. He was briefed by Habeeban Memon, another victim of the incident. After resuming the polling he went to his office and “saw footages of it on Geo television channel”, he reported.
However, “no other charge could be inserted because the two women did not want to give a statement,” Sono Khan Baloch, the provincial election commissioner, told The Express Tribune.
Even Siyal could not obtain their statements. “I asked Assistant Commissioner Ghulam Qadir Junejo to submit the written statements of Waheeda Shah and the polling staff, but to no avail,” he said.
A few reporters who managed to contact Habeeban Memon were told that she had forgiven Bukhari. She attempted to play down the situation on Sunday while appearing at a press conference along with a veiled-girl, introduced as Shagufta Memon. The request to remove the veil for identification was rejected. “Please stop hounding us,” Memon directed the media.
The briefing was later labelled a farce by Mir Mushtaq Talpur, the top contender against Waheeda in the by-elections. “I don’t believe it was her. Their families have been intimidated with consequences if they speak,” he alleged at a press conference where he appealed to the chief justice to declare the elections null and void.
Bukhari could not be accessed for her comments on Monday. “I was angered by the complaints about rigging,” she explained right after the incident occurred on Saturday. “The matter has been resolved,” she concluded.
Meanwhile, confusion prevailed whether Bukhari would be disqualified for her actions.
“The court will decide on the matter,” said Sono Khan Baloch. “The process has begun.” The election commission has not yet issued a notification of the results.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2012.