Responding to the testimony of the former election commissioner of Punjab, who revealed that extra ballot papers were printed in several of the province’s constituencies, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has said that the ballots were printed under army’s supervision.
In a written reply submitted to a three-member inquiry commission probing allegations of rigging in the 2013 general elections, PML-N’s counsel Shahid Hamid admitted that the process of printing and delivery of ballot papers for the polls was delayed because of outdated printing machines, shortage of manpower and capacity issues.
Claiming that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) took all major decisions in consultation with the political parties, the government in its response made it clear that private corporations printed ballots under the supervision of the army. The ruling PML-N incorporated this aspect repeatedly in its reply to satisfy the qualms of opposition parties.
Citing a letter written by the ECP, the government said that although the Printing Corporation of Pakistan (PCP) and the Pakistan Security Printing Corporation were responsible for printing ballot papers, the election body delegated this task to the Pakistan Post Foundation Press.
According to the government, PCP Islamabad only had one printing machine available which was 40 years old. Since the machine had no numbering function, four million ballot papers had to be processed manually.
The government said ECP employed additional manpower through public advertisement for binding and numbering ballot papers once the finance division did not allow the purchase of four new machines. It held the finance division responsible for not approving the ECP summary to acquire four new machines for binding and numbering ballot papers.
For Karachi, the election commission hired 107 people from Faisal Book Binding. From Lahore, 92 people were employed from Muallam Publishing Company and in Islamabad, 80 people were hired from Assad Muhammad Printing Press.
The government’s counsel also submitted details of all meetings, deliberations and decisions taken by the ECP. All stakeholders and 16 political parties, including the PML-N, Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, had met the then chief election commissioner and expressed satisfaction with the electoral body’s policies.
The ruling party is expected to submit a list of witnesses on Monday when the inquiry commission resumes its hearing. The judges have already issued notices for the remaining witnesses. In his sworn testimony before the inquiry commission headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk on Thursday, former Punjab election commissioner Mehboob Anwar, who oversaw the 2013 polls in the province, confessed he got papers printed on the request of returning officers (ROs) in several constituencies.
“I do not know the [exact] number but in many constituencies ballot papers beyond the 100% electorate were printed on the request of ROs,” he had said.
In a follow-up statement a day later, the former Punjab poll boss admitted that ROs did not adhere to the election commission’s formula for demanding extra ballot papers. “While some ROs requested for only three per cent extra ballot papers, in other cases the ROs asked for up to 30 per cent more ballot papers than the total registered voters,” claimed Anwar.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2015.