ISLAMABAD: A counsel for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) counsel Thursday admitted before the special judicial commission probing the May 2013 elections that printing of extra ballot papers, and their retention by Returning Officers (ROs) in Punjab was an administrative lapse.
Shahid Hamid, the counsel for PML-N, argued before the three judge commission, headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk, that while an administrative lapse may be responsible for the extra ballot papers, the ROs did not misuse them. Hence, the May 2013 general elections as a whole cannot be declared void based on this, adding that extra ballot papers were not part of the of election rigging pattern.
Earlier, the Chief Justice asked the ECP's counsel to apprise the commission on why there was no uniform policy regarding the demand of ballot papers, adding that in Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa and Balochistan, the requisition of ballot papers were given by Provincial Election Commissioners but in Punjab this had been done by ROs.
The CJ also remarked that Form 15 should have been found in the treasury.
Separately, the PML-N's counsel argued that Punjab's provincial electoral body had wisely handed the ROs the task of gauging and demanding ballot papers, adding that this move meant 1.24 million fewer ballot papers were printed.
The PML-N counsel, while defending the conduct of ROs, said that though the ROs had requisitioned extra ballot papers, but these had been retained and were not distributed among Presiding Officers on polling day with all such ballot papers accounted for.
However, he agreed with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) argument that there was no law that permitted ROs to retain extra ballot papers, though at the same time there was no bar on ROs to retain extra ballot papers either.
The Chief Justice, however, observed that no uniform formula was applied by ROs regarding the retention of extra ballot papers in their custody. He also referred to the matter of NA-125, where 128,000 extra ballot papers were retained.
Regarding the missing Form 15, Hamid said that they were found to be missing all over the country, noting that in Punjab the ratio of missing Form 15 was 28.8 per cent, which far less than in K-P -- 42.5 per cent and Sindh 45 per cent.
Like ECP, he argued that POs, not ROs, were responsible for Form 15s.
PML-N counsel further informed the commission that out of a total of 272 National Assembly seats 137 were not challenged before the election tribunals, adding that the tribunals had dismissed 112 petitions, 15 were allowed, while 10 are still pending. He added that in 20 appeals filed in the Supreme Court against ET verdicts, six had been decided while 14 are pending. Results of 91 per cent of the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies seats had been confirmed.
In provincial assemblies, there are 577 seats, wherein the results of 307 seats were not challenged while petitions on 216 were dismissed by the tribunal; therefore the results of 522 seats have been confirmed.
The PML-N counsel contended that the PTI did not complain about stolen mandate in Balochistan and K-P. In Punjab, where out of the 148 National Assembly seats PTI contested on all but 10 seats, where on 79 seats its candidates finished third or lower. There was a direct contest between PTI and PML-N candidates on just 49 seats. Of these seats, the margin of victory was around 5,000 votes on just four seats.
About the role of ex-CJP Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the PML-N's counsel argued that he had allowed judicial officers to act as DROs, ROs, and AROs in elections 2013 in view of a request made in the September 2012 NJPMC meeting participated by 16 political parties.
He alleged that the PTI and PML-Q have made controversial attack on former chief justice and ROs, adding that their remarks were scandalous. Upon this, the chief justice Mulk asked the PML-N counsel to read the transcript of Justice Iftikhar’s speech which he made while addressing the ROs in Lahore before polls 2013.
According to the speech there is nothing in it that points towards any planning for systematic rigging. Hamid said the ROs performed their duties in difficult circumstances adding that there is no evidence against any of the ROs.
Commenting on the four secretaries who were not changed in Punjab, the counsel argued that there is nothing which shows that the administration was not neutral. He said that the PTI leadership had themselves approved these appointments.
The commission is expected to conclude its proceedings on Friday, when the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) counsel Salman Akram Raja will present his arguments. The commission has recorded statements of 39 witnesses in 39 hearings.