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ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan ordered recounting of votes in more than 70 constituencies of national and provincial assemblies during the past three days, a senior ECP official told Dawn on Monday.

He said that under the law, a recount could be allowed only before consolidation of results, adding that the orders had been issued only in the cases where consolidation process had either not started or not completed. He said that in the rest of the constituencies, the consolidation process had been completed and Form-49 tabulating consolidated results, including ballot papers, had been received by the commission.

The official said that under Section 95 (6) of the Elections Act, the commission might, before conclusion of the consolidation proceedings, for reasons to be recorded, direct the returning officer to recount the ballot papers of one or more polling stations. Under the law, he added, the returning officer was to complete the consolidation proceedings within five days of the recount.

Although the ECP has ordered recounting on more than 70 constituencies, the list officially shared with it includes 26 constituencies — 15 national and 11 provincial assemblies. The National Assembly constituencies include the two from where former prime ministers Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani lost to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf candidates — NA-57 (Rawalpindi) and NA-158 (Multan).

Official says recount can only be held where consolidation of results has either not started or not been completed

Ballots for NA-129 (Lahore-VII), where former National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq was declared victorious against PTI’s Aleem Khan, will also be recounted, while requests by his fellow PML-N ticket-holders — Baleeghur Rehman (NA-170, Bahawalpur-I), Rana Muhammad Hayat Khan (NA-140, Kasur-I), Rana Afzaal Hussain (NA-119, Sheikhupura-I) and Rana Mohammad Afzal (NA-110, Faisalabad-X) — have also been accepted.

Recounting has also been approved for six Punjab Assembly seats, three Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly seats and two Sindh Assembly seats.

Meanwhile, recounting requests for 32 constituencies, where consolidated results had already been received, were rejected by the commission. These include NA-35 (Bannu), where PTI chief Imran Khan defeated former KP chief minister Akram Khan Durrani of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal. These also include requests of PTI’s Mian Manzoor Ahmad Watto (NA-144, Okara) and Begum Tehmina Daultana of the PML-N (NA-164, Vehari).

Recounting requests can be entertained at three levels — presiding officer (PO), returning officer (RO) and the ECP.

A presiding officer can order a recount at his/her polling station of his/her own motion or at the request of a candidate, the candidate’s election agent or a polling agent. According to Article 90 (6) of the Elections Act 2017, the presiding officer can order a recount once.

The returning officer, on the other hand, can order a recount right up till the process of consolidation starts, that is, right after the preliminary results are announced. The returning officer has to be provided a written request by a candidate or their election agent when the margin of victory is under five per cent of the votes polled or 10,000 votes, whichever is lesser. According to Article 95 (5) of Elections Act, the returning officer can order a recount on one or more of the polling stations under his watch at the same time, unless he thinks the request is unreasonable. The law is silent on what should form the basis for declaring a request ‘unreasonable’ practically, leaving it at discretion of the returning officer.

The ECP can order a recount before completion of the consolidation process, which means before the postal ballots have been counted and Form-49 filled out.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2018