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30pc extra ballot papers printed in NA-125: ECP witness

30pc extra ballot papers printed in NA-125: ECP witness

ISLAMBAD: A witness produced by the Election Commission of Pakistan conceded before the poll inquiry commission on Monday that 30 per cent more ballot papers than the number of registered voters in the NA-125 constituency had been printed in the 2013 general elections.

The Lahore constituency attained significance because it was bagged by PML-N leader and Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique. It was one of the four constituencies where the PTI had levelled allegations about electoral malpractices at the initial stage of its protest campaign against rigging.

Take a look: SC suspends election tribunal verdict on NA-125, PP-155

On May 4, an election tribunal annulled the election of Khawaja Rafique as member of the National Assembly and ordered the ECP to hold fresh polls in the constituency within 60 days. But on May 11, the Supreme Court suspended the tribunal’s decision.

On Monday, Lahore District Election Commissioner Shabbar Abbas Bokhari, who had prepared a report for the Provincial Election Commissioner (PEC), Lahore, about the printing of ballot papers for NA-125, testified before the three-man commission headed by Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk.

PTI counsel Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and ECP counsel Salman Akram Raja cross-examined him.

The witness admitted that he had been asked by the PEC to submit the report because ballot papers printed for the constituency were much in excess which was not a normal practice. He said he made certain changes in the assessment about the ballot papers, though he had received the printing requirement for the constituency from district returning officers (DROs) concerned.

The registered voters in the constituency were 429,115 while the demand for ballot papers as assessed by the returning officer (RO) concerned and the subsequent requisition was for 500,000, though it was slightly unusual. But the ballot papers printed numbered 550,000.

The witness said he had recommended printing of 50,000 extra ballot papers, adding that he had a justification for what he called “correction”.

He said although the requisition was for 500,000 ballot papers, but for two Punjab Assembly constituencies — PP-155 and 156 — in the same area and with the same number of registered voters as assessed by the RO was 550,000 — 300,000 for one constituency and 250,000 for the other.

Thus he equalised the number of ballot papers to 550,000 for both the National Assembly seat and the two provincial assembly seats.

“The ballot papers were printed according to my requirement” they were 30pc more than the number of total registered voters, the witness acknowledged. But he said the ballot papers had been received by DROs and ROs directly from the printing press which was a normal practice in elections.

He said he had been asked by the PEC through a letter on Dec 3, 2014, to explain the situation about the excess ballot papers and he prepared the report on the basis of information obtained from the ROs concerned.

The witness said the report was submitted to the PEC, but he had no idea when it was forwarded to the ECP. Unused ballot papers were deposited to the treasury, he added.

He admitted that apart from NA-125 he had made some modifications in the requirement of ballot papers for two more constituencies but that was because of some typing mistakes. No changes were made in other constituencies by him, he said.

Earlier, ECP Additional Secretary Sher Afgan admitted that PTI candidates in 55 National Assembly constituencies had lost security deposits in the 2013 elections.

The witness said the ECP review report posted on its website in August last year did not get a response from any political party, but it was mentioned during the PTI sit-in in Islamabad. He said he had no idea when the PTI sit-in was started.

He said the ECP had decided to get 172 million ballot papers printed for 86m voters, but over 181.7m ballot papers had been printed because of the ‘rounding up’ formula.

The witness, however, said he had no idea in which manner ballot papers were distributed among polling officers by RO.

He said it was not in his knowledge whether any DRO or RO had postponed polls in Balochistan because of the law and order situation or any personnel of the Frontier Corps was appointed as RO or PO.

The commission asked the PTI counsel to inform it by Tuesday about the purpose of producing Imran Khan before it for his examination.

Mr Pirzada had stated that there was no personal allegation against Mr Khan, but it was with an abundant caution that he might ask him to appear before the commission. A categorical statement on the matter will be made by Tuesday.

The commission also asked the PML-Q to produce its witnesses by Tuesday.

The testimonies of the Jamaat-i-Islami will be recorded on Wednesday.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2015

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