A week after an election tribunal de-seated railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and ordered a reelection in the constituency he had won in the 2013 elections, the Supreme Court suspended the verdict after admitting an appeal for a preliminary hearing.
A three-judge bench of the top court – headed by Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali – also restored Mian Naseer Ahmed, a PML-N MPA from Punjab Assembly constituency PP-155, who was also de-seated by the election tribunal.
Rafique had defeated his rival Hamid Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in the National Assembly constituency NA-125 (Lahore VIII). The latter, however, challenged the election alleging massive rigging in favour of Rafique. NA-125 was one of the four constituencies where the PTI had initially demanded a vote audit.
The election tribunal, after almost two years of hearings, found irregularities in the election records and on May 4 declared the elections null and void while ordering re-election in the constituency within 60 days. The ruling party, however, challenged the verdict.
The apex court bench took up the plea on Monday. Khawaja Haris, the counsel for Saad Rafique, submitted that the tribunal verdict was not in accordance with law and that it was based on ‘mere conjectures and surmises’ instead of any material evidence.
He submitted that his client’s rival, Hamid Khan, failed to furnish any evidence of the plaintiff’s collusion with the election staff and could not prove any illegalities during the lengthy proceedings of the tribunal.
Terming the conclusions drawn by the tribunal judge “not sustainable in the eye of law”, the petitioner claimed that he and his electorates had been penalised for the fault of the returning officers (ROs) and the election staff, who had failed to perform their duties efficiently.
After hearing preliminary arguments, the bench suspended the tribunal’s verdict and adjourned the hearing for four weeks. The court also summoned all records of the case from the tribunal and issued notices to all respondents, including Hamid Khan, the RO concerned as well as the ECP secretary.
Outside the Supreme Court, Rafique told media persons that the tribunal had exempted him from all allegations as it had allowed him to contest by-polls in the constituency. “I had reservations about the tribunal judgment, therefore, I wanted its interpretation by the august court,” he added.
Rafique said he had asked his party to allow him to go for re-polling, as Imran Khan and Hamid Khan had targeted him. However, the party leadership and legal experts advised him that if he has reservations and objections on the points raised in the tribunal judgment, then he should file an appeal in the Supreme Court. “It needs to be decided who should be held responsible if the election staff commits irregularities,” he said.
In his reaction PTI chief Imran Khan said the court has only issued a stay order for one month. “The court has not set aside the tribunal’s verdict,” he said while talking to the media.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2015.