ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i- Insaf (PTI) on Saturday filed an application wherein they demanded, for the first time, that a special inquiry commission probe the role of Returning Officers (ROs) in rigging the May 2013 general elections.
“In view of this factual position, it has become essential that the Commission undertake further enquiry by seeking a report from each Returning Officer of each National Assembly (NA) and each Provincial Assembly (PA) constituency in the 2013 general elections on whether or not the concerned RO complied with the directions of the Election Commission of Pakistan in the Action Plan for Printing of Ballot Papers for the General Elections 2013 and if so the evidence of such compliance and if not the reasons for the omission or failure to comply with the same”, says the six page application submitted by PTI’s counsel Abdul Hafiz Pirzada to the inquiry commission.
The PTI believes that such an inquiry is warranted and appropriate in view of the evidence pertaining to open ballot bags and missing form-15s. They hope that the inquiry will unearth the alleged nexus with the questions set out in Sections 3(a) to 3(c) of the Ordinance, wherein it is stated that “whether or not: (a) the 2013 general elections were organised and conducted impartially, honestly, fairly, justly and in accordance with law; and the results of the 2013 general elections, on an overall basis, are a true and fair reflection of the mandate given by the electorate. “
“The Action Plan for Printing of Ballot Papers for the General Elections 2013 (“Action Plan”) as approved by the Election Commission of Pakistan (“ECP”) which has not been revised or amended by the ECP, inter alia, prescribes a specific direction in paragraph 5(xiii) thereof requiring that: the returning officers shall carefully consolidate the result and shall tally the ballot paper account drawn by the Presiding Officer and the result of the count with that of packing invoice of each polling station”
The PTI submitted that this direction was in furtherance of Article 218(3) of the Constitution and is a crucial safeguard regarding sanctity of the ballot.
“It is a matter of record that in a vast majority of constituencies ballot papers well in excess of the total number of registered voters, were printed and delivered to Returning Officers coupled with the fact that [according to ECP itself] the average voter turnout during the 2013 GE was 55%”
The application, while presenting PTI’s data on missing form-15, says that though the ‘adversarial’ component of the proceedings has been substantially concluded but the ‘inquisitorial’ component of the proceedings is still continuing.
Meanwhile, the PTI has also requested the inquiry commission to summon the polling records of 35 constituencies and examine the ballots which had been rejected to ascertain the validity and correctness of their rejection.
“It is submitted that ‘rejected votes’ was one of the devices employed to manipulate and alter the true results of the 2013 General Elections,” the PTI application said.
The PTI said that in these constituencies, the number of rejected votes exceed the margin of victory. According to the table, there are five constituencies from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, three from FATA, 15 from Punjab, five from Sindh and seven from Balochistan, where ‘rejection of votes’ was used to usurp PTI’s mandate.
“In 35 constituencies, the number of rejected votes is substantial and, therefore, the possibility of malpractices and illegalities or manipulation cannot be ruled out,” says the application.
Further, the PTI referred to section 39(1) of the 1976 Act, which prescribes a mandatory requirement that the Returning Officer of each constituency must give the contesting candidates and their election agents a notice in writing of the day time and place fixed for consolidation of results and the consolidation of results is required to be undertaken in the presence of the contesting candidates and election agents that may be present.
It is stated that this provision is a key safeguard to promote transparency and fairness of the election result compilation and consolidation process. This safeguard, PTI claimed, had been violated on a wise scale by the ROs.
“From examination of some of the Returning Officers summoned at the request of the PML-Q it has transpired that rejected ballot paper packets were not opened and examined by the Returning Officers during the consolidation process which also warrants further enquiry by the Commission as this is a mandatory requirement under Section 38(3) of the 1976 Act. These votes may become decisive where the winning margins are narrow”
The PTI also pleaded the commission to consider directing NADRA to verify thumb impressions on the counterfoils of ballot books in each of these 35 constituencies.
The application further states that, to-date, the PTI has received 40 NADRA analysis reports from various NA and PA constituencies.
“As part of the Standard Operating Procedure established by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) prior to preparation of the NADRA Analysis Reports, NADRA officials prepare a detailed report called the “Pre-Scanning Report” which is a comprehensive inventory of the election material actually received by it. This “Pre-Scanning Report” records the precise contents of each sealed polling bag at the time it is opened by NADRA officials”, says the application.
The PTI, therefore, requested the commission to undertake further enquiry into this aspect by calling for all Pre-Scanning Reports prepared by NADRA to-date to examine the extent of missing polling material (especially missing electoral rolls and counterfoils).
It is also pointed out the commission due to financial constraints and time factor, only a minority of the cases before Election Tribunals are referred to NADRA for Forensic examination.