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Controversy hits polling as voters turned away

KARACHI, May 19: Re-polling in NA-250, PS-112 and PS-113 was marred by a controversy when some voters who had not been able to cast their ballots on May 11 at certain polling stations were told that they could not vote because their polling stations were not included in the list of 43 stations where polling was held on Sunday.

Presiding officers were unsure why re-polling was happening at their designated polling stations. What is more, the regional election commissioner and the Returning Officer for NA-250 were reluctant to explain the criteria for re-polling in the 43 polling stations and conveniently put the onus on the media and the voters for the subsequent confusion.

When these questions are posed to Tanvir Zaki, the regional election commissioner, following are his explanations. “Re-polling probably took place due to three reasons: either polling did not take place in the station, there were allegations of rigging or polling was halfway done in the station. But you will have to ask the District Returning Officer (DRO) who filed a report and based on his recommendations the ECP ordered re-polling in these 43 stations.”

Regarding voters’ confusion over whether they even had to vote even though their station was announced by the ECP, he says, “We ran TV tickers informing the general public and political parties had compiled the lists, so there should have been no confusion.” When pressed that the ECP could have clarified and educated the voters about which block codes and which polling booth numbers were entitled to re-poll on Sunday, Mr Zaki points out, “We have been busy consolidating election results since May 11. Then we had to reprint the voters’ list, arrange for polling personnel for 43 stations, print thousands of ballot papers for both national and provincial assembly seats, and dispatch the material under strict security measures. And all this we did in just six days.”

With DRO Shahid Shafiq busy, Dawn spoke to Returning Officer Ikramur Rehman for NA-250 for his version. “Ideally, first recounting should happen and then re-polling. At polling station numbers 138 and 178 voting began after 2 pm and in Qayyumabad, re-polling took place because the ballot boxes could not reach the stations located in the area and hence no polling happened. And in a school in Defence Phase 7 polling did not happen because the Muttahida Quami Movement had objected to the list of the [replacement] presiding officers whom we had appointed according to the authority accorded to us by ECP laws when the ECP-appointed presiding officers had not reached the polling station on May 11.”

Shouldn’t the ECP have informed the voters better about re-polling issues, his reply leaves one perplexed: “The media should have explained the legal position about re-polling,” says Mr Rehman.At the Defence Model School Phase 4, Shabbir Ali and his wife who were excited to vote were devastated when they were informed by volunteers that their station number 138 was not present in the school. “We didn’t cast our vote then [May 11] and now they are saying we cannot give our votes today because station number 138 is not included in the list,” said the agitated couple. In addition to 138, station number 178 was also not present in another designated school.

Mr Zaki explained that this was because in both cases people who came early to these stations left after waiting for a couple of hours and never returned, thinking that no voting would take place. “We extended polling hours till 8pm and so voting did happen here and hence there was no need for voting to take place in these stations.”

At the Mohammad Usman Memorial Government Boys Primary and Secondary School in Gari Khata the presiding officer, Syed Nasir Jamshed, had no idea why this particular school was designated as one of the re-polling stations after it was pointed out to him that one had encountered a couple who had earlier voted on May 11.

Dawn met up with Mrs Afzal Hussain soon after she cast her vote in the Safiya Secondary Boys Private School, where security personnel outnumbered the voters, near the Arambagh police station. She too had earlier exercised her mandate on May 11 and had come again to do so along with her son. Why bother again, Dawn questioned her. She shrugs and says, “It is our responsibility to vote”.

Zaeem, a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf polling agent at the ABSA School and College for the Deaf, said that he was doing his polling duty once again since the earlier votes cast by the voters at the station had become inessential as the ballot papers were improperly stamped, hence the re-polling was occurring once again in his station.

Tahir Mehdi, author and compiler of The Pakistan Election Compendium, says that re-polling is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan however he adds that the process is faulty and needs to be improved upon.