After 86 days, 39 hearings and testifying 69 witnesses, the judicial commission investigating allegations of systematic rigging in the 2013 general elections has concluded its proceedings.
On Friday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) counsel, Salman Akram Raja, wrapped up his arguments, admitting that the custody mechanism of election material needed to be improved. He said the polling authority was severely short on funds and the government had not helped it despite several requests.
“What came out from these proceedings is a general incompetence of presiding officers and deficiencies in maintenance and preservation of election records,” he said. “There was no sinister motive behind the shortcomings. But the situation must be improved for future elections.”
The judges observed the treasury where the polling bags were stored was far from satisfactory.
The chief justice asked the ECP what it had planned for the future regarding the storage of election material because safe custody of election records was its duty. He also questioned whether or not any senior ECP official had ever visited the treasury.
ECP counsel Raja said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had made eight rigging allegations but no evidence was furnished by the party. “There is nothing on record that suggests any systematic design or scheme to steal the mandate of any political party, nor anything that the ECP acted partially in favour of any political party,” he added.
When Justice Amir Hani Muslim questioned if there was any monitoring system for elections, the ECP counsel admitted there was no monitoring for delivery of Forms-14s and Forms-15s by presiding officers to the treasury, and 15 to 20% officers had not fully complied with law.
On the judges’ query, he explained the presiding officers sometimes did not use carbon paper and the form, which is handed over to ROs, is carefully filled while Form-15 is filled hurriedly and thrown into the bags. Out of 11 ROs, nine ROs had said they received all Forms-15s, he added.
He conceded another oversight on the part of the ECP when the judges asked him why the ROs retained Forms-15s and other election material with them instead of sending it to the authority.
Earlier, PTI’s counsel Abdul Hafiz Pirzada submitted that the party had audited ballot paper accounts, packing invoices and Forms-15s prepared by the presiding officers. Thirteen constituencies have been identified where more than 100% votes were cast.
In 15 National Assembly constituencies, 14,000 to 22,000 extra ballot papers were printed. About 800,000 extra ballot papers were printed and all this was done after April 26, 2013.
The three-judge panel headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk with members Justice Amir Hani Muslim and Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan held its first hearing on April 9.
Top jurists namely Abdul Hafiz Pirzada, Aitzaz Ahsan and Shahid Hamid, who are representing major political parties, have lauded the judges for conducting the proceedings smoothly.
“Perhaps the commission will announce its findings before Eidul Fitr,” said one official, who is close to the commission members.
With the chief justice retiring on August 17, the commission is expected to release its findings within the month of July.
Ishaq Khan Khakwani, the PTI taskforce chairman, while talking to The Express Tribune said the party had proved that the ECP was the main culprit of rigging. He also defended the legal team’s decision to not present the names of former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice (retd) Khalilur Rehman Ramday and Mir Shakilur Rehman as rigging accused.
“We have fought a legal war before the commission. Everyone knows who murdered two prime ministers Liaquat Ali Khan and Benazir Bhutto, but their cases can’t be proven in the court of law. Same is the issue in the election rigging matter,” he claimed.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2015.