Even eight months after the general election, hundreds of rigging complaints are pending before poll tribunals in the country.
According to Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) statistics, 405 petitions were referred to election tribunals across the country, of which 238 of them have not been addressed, although the 120-day deadline to decide the cases has lapsed.
On May 22 last year, ECP notified 14 election tribunals, comprising retired high court judges, under Section 52 of the amended Representation of People’s Act 1976, to hear the rigging petitions.
Under the law, once ECP refers a petition to a tribunal, it has to conduct hearings daily and dispose of the case within 120 days.
Since Punjab has the most number of constituencies being the largest province, it proportionally had the largest number of complaints as well. Five tribunals were appointed in the province, while three tribunals each were constituted for the rest of the three provinces.
So far, these tribunals have disposed of only 176 petitions, while another 238 are still pending with them - 109 of which are based in Punjab.
An official of ECP’s law wing told The Express Tribune that after the polling day, any aggrieved contestant can file a petition within 45 days. These petitions have to be sent to ECP, which then reviews the nature of the complaint.
Similarly, if the complaint does not contain any substance, according to the commission, it is rejected right away, he explained. It only refers those cases to the tribunals that need thorough investigation. This interim period takes from 40 to 80 days before a case is referred to a tribunal, the official added.
The ECP failed to provide the exact dates of when the pending 167 complaints were referred to the tribunals. However, the law wing official revealed that the cut-off time of 120 days has passed for almost all the cases.
Nevertheless, there is a provision in the same law that permits the tribunal to get an extension of another 120 days. However, the tribunal has to write down reasons for the delay. “In cases where more evidence is needed, the tribunal can extend the time period needed for deciding the case. But they have to use this relaxation judiciously,” he said.
Raja Amir Abbas, a Supreme Court advocate, who has been involved in many high-level election cases, criticised the tribunals for the extensive delays. “The Supreme Court or the ECP should take notice of the delay and pass strict directions to the tribunals,” he told The Express Tribune.
It is a common practice in our country that when lawyers know that their client will lose, they resort to unnecessary adjournments. “One of the judges of a tribunal in Balochistan has gone on leave,” he added.
He claimed that the judges appointed in tribunals were getting lucrative perks, including a hefty salary of Rs500,000 per month and should justify it through their work.
Petitions against alleged rigging
Punjab: 172 petitions referred, 63 decided
Sindh: 93 petitions referred, 42 disposed of
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa: 71 complaints filed, 47 disposed of
Balochistan: 69 complaints filed, 15 decided
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2014.
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