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ROs sought printing of extra ballot papers: Punjab’s ex-EC

ROs sought printing of extra ballot papers: Punjab’s ex-EC

ISLAMABAD: The former election commissioner of Punjab conceded before the poll inquiry commission on Thursday that certain returning officers (ROs) had requested printing of ballot papers in excess of the registered voters in some constituencies.

But Mehboob Anwar, who supervised the May 11, 2013, general elections in Punjab and later retired from the post, could not divulge more since he had no recollection of how many constituencies had requested for printing surplus papers.

Mr Anwar was cross-examined by senior counsel Abdul Hafeez Pirzada on behalf of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. The cross-examination by Mr Pirzada will continue on Friday as, according to the counsel, many other aspects still have to be covered.

But Mr Anwar was cautioned by the three-judge Judicial Commission, headed by Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk, that he was under oath and, therefore, should not discuss anything with anyone on the matter.

The commission asked the political parties interested in furnishing their witnesses lists to do the needful with reasons so that the commission, as well as the witnesses, knew why they were being called. However, it clarified that it would be up to the commission to decide who should be called.

Shahid Hamid, representing the ruling PML-N, informed the commission that the party was also interested in providing its own list of witnesses. He was asked to submit the list by Monday.

Mehboob Anwar deposed before the commission that he could not recall if the returning officer of NA-154 Lodhran, where PTI’s Secretary General Jehangir Tareen had contested, but lost, had requested for printing of 15,000 ballot papers, in addition to the registered voters.

Mr Pirzada explained that he was asking these questions because Mr Anwar was in the thick of things during the election period.

In reply to a question, Mr Anwar said he had not sought permission from the higher authorities regarding the demand for printing of extra ballot papers, although he used to intimate the Election Commission of Pakistan in writing.

He admitted that the number of ballot papers to be printed for each constituency had to be decided by the ROs and their requests were recorded in the provincial commission.

He replied in the affirmative that the authorised agencies like the Pakistan Printing Corporation (PCP) and Pakistan Security Printing Corporation (PSPC) had started printing ballot papers on April 19, 2013, and it should have been completed by May 5 of that year, but the papers could not be supplied to the ROs by the May 5 deadline.

Mr Anwar failed to recall if the agencies involved in the printing of ballot had informed the ECP about doubling the quantity of papers because the size of the paper had to be increased to accommodate 30 candidates than usual 15.

He was also not aware that the PSPC had written a letter to the ECP stating that it was a difficult task to print the huge number of ballot papers in time, but said still he had managed to do it.

He explained that by May 5 the job of completing the process could not be completed but had no idea as to what was left to be done on that day. The ballot papers should have been provided to the ROs three days before the polling, he added.

The ECP was, however, not in a position to deliver the election material three days before the polling, he said, adding that none had sought explanation from him for not delivering the material in time.

Mr Anwar said that as provincial election commissioner he was subordinate to the then chief election commissioner, but he had no direct contacts with members of the ECP.

He admitted that he had met ECP’s Punjab member retired Justice Riaz Kiani in his Lahore office on March 26, 2013, but it was a formal meeting and nothing particular came under discussion.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2015

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