The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday ruled that a re-election be held in the entire NA-75 Daska constituency after suspicions that the results may have been falsified.
The ECP, while hearing an application by PML-N candidate Syeda Nosheen Iftikhar, declared the by-poll held in the constituency on February 19 as null and void. A five-member commission, headed by the chief election commissioner, announced the decision and ordered that fresh elections be held in Daska on March 18.
The order was issued using the powers conferred on the ECP under Article 218 (3) of the Constitution and Article 19 (1) of the Election Act, 2017.
It noted that "on the day of the election, chaos was spread in the entire constituency."
A detailed verdict will be issued later.
Reacting to the decision, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz, who was the most vocal in demands for a re-election in NA-75, said "the people of Daska have gotten back their right."
Referring to Prime Minister Imran Khan, she wrote that the "fake sadiq and ameen (honest and righteous) has been issued the certificate of vote thief" through the ECP verdict.
"Vote thief Imran Khan also turned out to be a kidnapper," she alleged.
In another tweet, Maryam said the echo of her father and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif's narrative of "vote ko izzat do (honour the vote)" was being heard "throughout the country".
"Thanks to the people of Daska who not only voted but also guarded their vote and handed over the vote thieves to the authorities after catching them red-handed."
Maryam's spokesperson Muhammad Zubair also spoke to the reporters and said that the government was "caught red-handed", adding that the ruling party "adopted tactics that even the ECP was surprised".
Zubair went on to say that the atmosphere in NA-75 on the day of the election was not conducive for voters, citing a firing incident in which two people were killed and three were injured. The former Sindh governor accused Prime Minister Imran of being at the "forefront of the conspiracy" and said that criminal proceedings should be initiated against the latter.
PML-N candidate Iftikhar termed the decision as a "historic" one and thanked her voters for casting their ballots despite being beaten by batons and sticks.
"This is a historic decision which has set an example for coming elections," she said. "I congratulate people of NA-75 whose battle I fought.
"Today they got their right, their constitutional and democratic right which every Pakistani deserves."
Suspension, transfers of officials ordered
Additionally, the ECP ordered the Establishment Division to suspend Sialkot's deputy commissioner and district police officer as well as the Daska assistant commissioner, a press release issued by the commission said.
Federal and provincial governments have also been told to suspend the aforementioned three officials as well as Daska deputy superintendent of police and Sambrial DSP. They will also not be appointed for any election duty in future, the statement said.
The body also directed the government that the Gujranwala Division commissioner and Gujranwala Range regional police officer be transferred from Gujranwala Division and their positions be changed.
According to the press release, it would be decided later if the ECP itself will take action against the officials or the government.
The Punjab chief secretary and inspector general of police have also been summoned on March 4 for "ignoring their duties" during the NA-75 by-poll.
PTI to consult legal team
Meanwhile, Information Minister Shibli Faraz told reporters that the ruling party will consult its legal team and consider all available options.
Visibly frustrated, Faraz also bashed the PML-N, saying that the party "accepts its victory but not its defeat". The minister said that the PML-N practised "politics of money, force and hooliganism" which led to a "weakened democracy".
The information minister went on to say that he was "proud" that PTI's promises about freeing institutions from authorities' pressure had been fulfilled. "What is more important for us is that institutions are completely free," said the federal minister. He insisted that the party respected the decisions of the institutions.
When a reporter inquired about ECP's comments on the Punjab government's poor management of the NA-75 by-poll, Faraz told him to "quit journalism" and walked away.
Earlier during the hearing today, PTI lawyer Barrister Ali Zafar addressed the 'disappearance' of the staff of 20 polling stations in the constituency and said that it was "not right to say that a delay in results means they were altered".
"The manner of delay can give rise to suspicion [that] results were altered," ECP's Sindh member responded. Barrister Zafar pointed out that there was no set time for presiding officers to report at the returning officer's office. He further said that phone batteries die after an entire day of usage.
"Did everyone's phone battery die, including the driver's?" asked ECP's Khyber Pakhutnkhwa member Irshad Qaiser.
The PTI lawyer insisted that the RO had requested a re-election in 14 polling stations on the "basis of speculation". He added that there was no controversy in 337 out of 360 polling stations and that an "attempt was made to prove a rigging conspiracy". According to the lawyer, the late arrival of a presiding officer was "not an illegal thing [on the basis of] which a re-election should be conducted".
Meanwhile, PML-N lawyer Salman Akram Raja demanded a forensic audit of votes cast in the 20 polling stations whose results are questionable.
Barrister Zafar said that it "would have been better if presiding officers announced the results", adding that a tribunal could have been approached after the outcome was announced. It was the tribunal's job to conduct the inquiry, not that of the ECP, he said.
He also pointed out that none of the presiding officers had talked about being kidnapped or falsifying results. The PTI lawyer further said that the commission will first have to declare that the presiding officers are lying.
The by-election in the NA-75 constituency last week was marred by violence after two people were killed and three others injured in a firing incident at a polling station in Daska.
A day later, the ECP had said that it suspected the results of 20 polling stations had been falsified in the by-election for NA-75 (Daska) as the PML-N alleged massive rigging. The commission said results of the constituency were received with "unnecessary delay", adding that it tried to contact the presiding officers several times but with no success.
On the other hand, the PTI had claimed to win the election and had lashed out at the opposition party for only accepting those results that came out in its favour.
Prime Minister Imran, however, tweeted on Monday that he had requested the PTI candidate to ask for re-polling at the 20 'suspect' polling stations.
"Have always struggled for fair and free elections. So even though there is no legal compulsion to do so before ECP announces results, I would request our PTI candidate to ask for re-polling in the 20 polling stations Opposition is crying hoarse over in the Daska NA-75 bye-election," he said.