As the inquiry commission investigating allegations of rigging in the May 2013 elections is all set to start hearing arguments of the counsels representing different political parties from Monday (tomorrow), the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has admitted that the absence of Form-15 from polling bags points towards negligence of the presiding officers (POs).
“It is clear that the gaps in the record of Form-15s is entirely random and reflects lack of care on the part of the POs as regards the copies of the Form-15s that ought to have been placed in the polling bags,” reads the reply submitted by ECP’s counsel Salman Akram Raja to the inquiry body.
“As regards gaps in the record of Form-15s that returning officers (ROs) have been able to retrieve, these gaps again reflect lack of care on the part of the POs or deficiencies in the record-keeping procedure and facilities.” The ECP states that the absence of Form-15s cannot be said to be proof – much less proof beyond reasonable doubt – of any wrongdoing. “The absence of Form-15s and broken seals could have been caused due to incompetence of the POs.”
Read: Returning officers’report: Form-15 missing from seats won by PML-N, PTI
It also states that the absence of Form-15s in any constituency cannot be considered as evidence of electoral malpractice by the returning candidates or anyone else. “There’s no evidence of who might have broken the seals on the polling bags.” Regarding the issue of extra ballot papers, the ECP said it was unclear as to who is being accused for alleged misuse of extra ballot papers. “Extra ballot papers were in the custody of the POs.” The ECP also defended the role of the ROs regarding their demand for printing extra ballot papers.
The inquiry panel said if the Form-15s were not placed in the polling bags or were removed later, there should be other corroborating evidence of tampering, adding that the PTI and other political parties have not challenged the actions of the POs and it has not been suggested that the POs at thousands of polling stations were part of some organised plan to rig the elections.
Ishaq Khan Khakwani, chairman of the PTI’s task force engaged in gathering rigging evidences, told The Express Tribune that the ECP is the main culprit behind rigging and irregularities in the last general elections. He said the ECP is now shifting all the responsibility of irregularities from the ROs to the POs.
He also claimed that throughout the proceedings, the ECP has favoured the stance of the ruling party.
Read: Form 15 missing from thousands of vote bags
Meanwhile, in its 70-page reply, the PML-N has rejected all allegations of poll rigging. The party’s counsel told the inquiry body that the PTI had failed to prove its allegations during the proceedings.
Moreover, the MQM also submitted written arguments before the inquiry commission, denying all rigging allegations.
The three-judge panel, headed by CJP Nasirul Mulk, is likely to conclude the proceedings by Friday, following which counsels for different political parties will start recording their arguments from Monday.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2015.