ISLAMABAD: An apology and 25,000 thumb impressions could not save Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate Waheeda Shah, who on Wednesday was disqualified by election authorities for slapping polling officials during last month’s by-polls.
Her party, however, appeared unconvinced, and expressed concern over the decision.
In its verdict announced on Wednesday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) imposed a two-year ban on Shah from taking part in elections and nullified the result of a by-poll that took place for a Sindh provincial assembly seat PS-53.
The incident, recorded on camera, took place at a polling station in Tando Mohammad Khan.
The ECP also asked the inspector-general police Sindh to take action against DSP Irfan Shah who was present with the candidate when the incident took place.
Three jury members voted in favour of the verdict, while two opposed it, said Mohammad Afzal Khan, spokesperson for the election commissioner after the announcement of the verdict.
Three commission members from Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan voted in favour while the member from Sindh and the chief election commissioner, Justice (retd) Hamid Ali Mirza voted against it.
Shah has the right to appeal and the order can be challenged in the Supreme Court, an ECP official said.
Support from the party
Support poured in from the party’s provincial leadership and Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah said that PPP voters have expressed concern over the election commission’s decision.
“We have not yet decided what to do about it, but will consult with constitutional expert if the decision can be challenged in the apex court,” he said at a reception in Karachi.
Shah said the government and the party respects institutions, but two different punishments could not be awarded for a single “offence”.
“We will not take a step which challenges the authority of the election [commission],” he said.
The chief minister was seconded by Sindh Minister for Local Bodies Agha Siraj Durrani who said that Shah had “only slapped the staff.”
Even though [Shah’s] actions are wrong, the law should also apply to all other offenders who had used violence in polling stations during elections, Durrani said.
The party leadership in Islamabad, however, was less sympathetic.
“It was a legal issue and the ECP has already awarded punishment to Mrs. Shah,” said PPP information secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira while talking to The Express Tribune.
“The incident is embarrassing for the party and we do not support this attitude,” he added.
Would the party take disciplinary action against her? “Shah was not an office bearer of the party and has already been punished … that [punishment] is enough,” Kaira said.
Shah was contesting for a seat that fell vacant after the death of her husband, Syed Mohsin Shah Bukhari. She was declared the winner in the initial vote-count, with 24,980 votes according to unofficial results, but the ECP withheld the results following the slapping incident.
The Supreme Court took a suo motu notice of the assault on polling staff on February 29. The court refused to accept Shah’s apology and directed the ECP and provincial police chief Sindh to submit their report on next date of hearing - March 12.
Meanwhile, dozens of female PPP supporters in Hyderabad protested against the verdict and staged a sit-in at the Hyderabad-Badin Road, blocking it for two hours. Some voters also held a press conference at the Hyderabad press club in Shah’s favour.
The PPP, on its part, has called for a strike in Shah’s constituency, Tando Muhammad Khan today (Thursday).
(With additional reporting by Hafeez Tunio in Karachi)
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2012.