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The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Saturday ordered the recounting of votes in NA-131 (Lahore-VII) on a petition filed by PML-N leader Saad Rafique, who lost the July 25 election to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan.

Justice Mamoonur Rashid also directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to withhold the notification announcing Khan's win from the constituency until the recount is completed.

Rafique, the former railways minister, had lost the poll to the PTI chief by a margin of only 680 votes, receiving 83,633 votes against Khan's 84,313, according to the Form-47 available on the ECP website.

The 2,835 rejected votes from the constituency were then recounted on Rafique's request, which resulted in slight changes to the final count but Khan still remained the winner by a few hundred votes.

After losing the recount, Rafique had applied for yet another recount, this time seeking the fresh counting of all votes cast in the constituency. However, this request was rejected by the Returning Officer.

Rafique subsequently approached the high court, requesting it to order a full recount of the constituency.

Rafique's lawyer, Azam Nazir Tarar, argued before the court that the RO, when first approached for a recount, had said that the rejected votes would be examined first.

"After the rejected votes were examined [and] when we asked for the bags of ballot papers to be opened for a full recount, our request was rejected," he said.

To support his arguments, Advocate Tarar said that a recount on a provincial seat from the same constituency had led to a rise in the number of votes for Rafique.

"My client claims that 2,800 votes have not been made part of the final count," he told the court.

In a note of appreciation for the prime minister-in-waiting, the lawyer said: "I was deeply affected by Imran Khan's victory speech in which he showed willingness to open up any constituency for recounting for which there were objections."

However, "if Imran Khan had backed his statement with concrete action, then there would have been no need to approach the high court," he said.

On the other hand, Babar Awan, who was representing Khan, claimed that the RO had ordered the recounting of votes without hearing his side of the argument.

"He should have issued the order after having heard from all parties involved. We only received a notice asking us to appear for the recounting," he claimed.

Justice Rashid after hearing arguments from both Rafique as well as Khan's lawyers announced the decision in the PML-N leader's favour.

According to the directives issued by the judge, recounting must take place within three days of receiving the court's order.

The recounting will begin after a notification is sent to all the candidates, the written court order states.

The court order also states that the Form 49 issued by the RO shall stand suspended while recounting takes place, after which a new Form 49 will be issued.

Meanwhile, sources told DawnNewsTV that Khan has directed his lawyer (Awan) to draft an application to challenge today's verdict before a division bench of the LHC.

When can a candidate seek a recount?

Recount requests can be entertained at three levels — the PO, RO and the ECP level.

A presiding officer can order a recount at his/her polling station of his 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 PO can only order a recount once.

The RO, on the other hand, can order a recount right up till the process of consolidation starts; that is, right after preliminary results are announced.

The RO 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 2017, the RO 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.

No rules specifying what constitutes an 'unreasonable' request are specified under election laws.

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

It should be noted that the consolidation process has to be completed within five days of the election. After the consolidation is complete, the RO must provide signed copies of consolidated results (Form 49) to the ECP within 24 hours.