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Irregularities, not rigging, led to re-poll for NA-125

Irregularities, not rigging, led to re-poll for NA-125

LAHORE: The election tribunal which ordered re-election for NA-125, Lahore, on Monday primarily held the failure of the election staff in complying with the election laws and missing polling record as the basis of the decision. The judgement absolved PML-N nominees of any attempt to rig the polls.

In its detailed judgment issued on Tuesday, the tribunal said the returning officer (RO) did not prepare the list of polling personnel himself, did not get the same approved at least 15 days before the polls, and changed the list of polling personnel which was used for appointment of staff, just a few days before the polls and without permission of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Know more: I'm being punished for Returning Officers' failure: Saad Rafique

It also said the RO failed to provide the correct electoral rolls at polling stations 156 and 156 for two booths depriving voters of their right to franchise, received statements of vote counts from presiding officers without their signatures and thumb impressions, prepared the consolidated statement (final results) without opening the polling bags and without summoning the ballot papers excluded from count as well as the challenged votes.

The RO, it observed, also assigned the treasury incomplete polling bags which even lacked ballot papers, counterfoils and electoral rolls at some stations.

Tribunal judge Javed Rasheed Mahboobi was convinced that the presiding officers were generally negligent in their duties. Even statements of counts were not prepared in accordance with laws and ballot papers were put into polling bags without sealing on envelops and by mixing records of national and provincial constituencies.

He said the RO acted unlawfully by refusing to open polling bags for examination of excluded ballot papers and challenged ballots papers and also demonstrated no responsibility in selection of polling personnel. Rather, the judge said, the RO conceded that he had no role in such exercise and details of polling personnel were prepared by the election cell in the district returning officer’s office and such data was just fed into the RO’s computer through a USB.

“All these facts and reports of the Commissions (one was set up to take into custody the polling bags from the Treasury and the other comprised finger print forensic experts) and forensic experts lead me to the conclusion that the Returning Officer and the Polling Staff failed to comply with the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, which are more than enough to hold that to the satisfaction of the Tribunal the elections has been material affected and thus this issue is decided in affirmative (in the petitioner’s favour).”

The decision, it said, was based on section 70 of the Representation of the People Act, 1976 that said the "Tribunal shall declare the elections as a whole to be void if it is satisfied that the result off the election has been materially affected by reason of: a) the failure of any person to comply with the provisions of the Act or the rules".

The tribunal found that the election cell at the DRO office had no legal cover whereas it was not clear who approved the lists of polling personnel, while there was also no written record of the lists found with the DRO or the RO.

It, however, observed that during cross examination of Khwaja Saad Rafiq and Mian Naseer (who had been elected as MNA and MPA from NA-125 and PP-155) nothing substantial could be derived to hold any of them guilty of corrupt practices.

The tribunal says no evidence was brought on record against the returned candidates, the secretary of schools (most of the polling staff had been taken from the education department) and the home secretary (that controlled the police).

It said that PTI candidate Hamid Khan’s allegations of 100 percent voting at some polling stations, go slow policy, taking over of polling stations by Khwaja Saad Rafiq, and tampering with ballot boxes could not be established.

“In view of all the aforesaid circumstances and the evidence examined it is held that the petitioner failed to discharge onus of either of these issues which are hereby decided in negative", reads the judgement.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2015

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