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SAHIWAL: After 31 months, the divisional election tribunal, formed to settle pleas regarding the local government elections of 2015, decided an election petition of Union Council (UC) No 6 on Wednesday.

Tribunal head retired Justice Rana Zahid Mahmood declared Chaudhry Shafqat Javed and Sheikh Muhammad Hanif winners while Haji Abdul Latif and Ali Azhar Goga of the PML-N runners-up.

Earlier, the returning officer (RO) for the UC No 6 had declared PML-N candidate Latif winner with one vote lead in the elections held on Nov 19, 2015.

Petitioners’ counsel Chaudhry Anwarul Haq told Dawn the tribunal was to give verdict on the plea in 120 days. Mr Javed said he fought a long, nerve-racking battle to get justice.

Runner-up declared winner

“The decision proves PML-N candidates used the state authority to get desired results,” he said.

Mr Javed started his fight on the election day, when he moved the RO office for the recount of votes in polling station Nos 64 and 69.

On Nov 20, 2015 the RO called the six candidates to his office for recount but after nine hours consultations, he declared Mr Latif winner with one vote. According to then results, Mr Latif got 3,017 votes and Mr Javed 3,016.

Interestingly, RO Khalid Khan also wrote a letter on Nov 23, 2015 to the district returning officer that he could not find 85 votes declared invalid in the election material of polling stations of 64 and 69. The RO recommended first information reports against Naveed Azhar and Rukhsana Fasil, presiding officers of polling stations numbers 64 and 69, for misplacing 47 and 38 rejected votes. Mr Javed argued that there were 12 polling stations in the UC and how the RO could declare official results on Form XIII by counting votes from 10 polling stations and ignoring the fact 85 rejected votes were missing.

On Jan 16, 2016, Mr Javed moved the tribunal.

The case proceeded at a snail’s pace where all stakeholders - Shaikh Ijaz, Haji Latif, Shafqat Javed, Sarmad Shafqat and Sardar Iqbal Bali – were called by the tribunal.

Retired Justice Mahmood once formed a local commission, headed by lawyer Husnain Sherazi, to find out rejected and missing votes. The commission faced difficulties in retrieving election material from the district accounts office. The tribunal head had to intervene to get access to the material.

The court reader confirmed after final counting that Javed won the election by securing 3,018 votes while Mr Latif bagged 3,016 votes. Mr Javed is the younger brother of PPP Sahiwal president Zaki Chaudhry. His son Sarmad Shafqat contested the 2018 general elections on the PPP ticket for PP-197 and stood third. The family may find a great solace in the tribunal verdict.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2018