ISLAMABAD: PML-N candidate in the Daska by-election Nousheen Iftikhar talks to journalists in front of offices of the Election Commission of Pakistan on Thursday after the commission declared the earlier polling null and void; (right top) federal Information Minister Shibli Faraz is discussing the ruling with newsmen; and (bottom) PTI’s candidate Ali Asjad Malhi is pictured outside the ECP building.—Online
ISLAMABAD: PML-N candidate in the Daska by-election Nousheen Iftikhar talks to journalists in front of offices of the Election Commission of Pakistan on Thursday after the commission declared the earlier polling null and void; (right top) federal Information Minister Shibli Faraz is discussing the ruling with newsmen; and (bottom) PTI’s candidate Ali Asjad Malhi is pictured outside the ECP building.—Online

ISLAMABAD: The Elec­tion Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday voided the recently held by-election in NA-75 (Daska) — which was marred by deadly clashes between workers of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), the mysterious disappearance of around 20 presiding officers and suspected tampering with results — and ordered re-polling in the entire constituency on March 18.

The decision was announ­ced by a five-member bench of the commission on a petition filed by PML-N candidate in the constituency Nousheen Iftikhar.

The ECP had withheld the results after the polling, as presiding officers in the constituency had gone missing for over seven hours and top officials of the district administration and police were unavailable to help recover the allegedly abducted officers.

The short order read out by Chief Election Commis­sioner Sikandar Sultan Raja said: “The arguments heard and record perused. From the perusal of available record produced by the parties, the Returning Officer, as well as collected by the commission through different sources, we have come to the conclusion that a conducive environment was not available for the candidates and voters of the constituency, and the election in the subject constituency has not been conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in a transparent manner; incidents of murders, firing and injuries, bad law and order situation in the subject constituency created harassment for voters and other circumstances, leading to make the process of results doubtful/unascertainable.”

The order went on to say: “This commission in the exercise of powers under Article 218(3) of the Constitution read with Section 9(1) of the Elections Act, 2017, declares the poll held on 19.02.21 in the subject constituency (NA-75, Daska, Sialkot) as void and orders fresh poll/re-poll in the entire constituency on 18th March, 2021.”

During the hearing, the PML-N lawyer pointed out that the controversy involved the entire constituency and that Sub-Divisional Police Officer Zulfiqar Virk had yet to be removed from his post.

In a related development, the ECP summoned chief secretary and inspector general of police, Punjab, to appear before it in person on March 4 to “explain negligence in performing duties” during the Daska by-election.

The commission ordered transfer and posting of commissioner of Gujranwala Division and Regional Police Officer, Gujranwala range, outside the division.

The commission ordered the Establishment Division to suspend Deputy Commissioner of Sialkot Zeeshan Javed, District Police Officer of Sialkot Hasan Asad Alvi and Assistant Commissioner of Daska Asif Hussain.

It also directed the federal and Punjab governments to suspend these officers, besides DSP of Sambrial Zulfiqar Virk and DSP of Daska Muhammad Ramzan Kamboh and ordered that they should not be deputed to election duty in future.

The ECP would either hold an inquiry against the officers itself or direct the federal or provincial government to do so, it said. A final decision in this regard would be taken later.

Soon after the polling, through its unusual statement the commission had come on record to voice the fear that the results provided by the “missing officers” after an inordinate delay had been compromised. It had put on hold the announcement of unconfirmed and unofficial results of the constituency.

In its statement, the ECP had said that Chief Election Commissioner Raja had tried to contact the inspector general of police and the commissioner and deputy commissioner concerned on receiving information about the “missing” presiding officers, but failed to do so.

The Punjab chief secretary, it said, was finally contacted at around 3am and he gave an assurance that the “missing” officials would be traced. However, later the chief secretary too made himself unavailable.

In her plea, PML-N candidate Ms Iftikhar had termed the happenings of Feb 19 a criminal fraud with voters of Daska and had requested the ECP to annul the electoral exercise and order fresh polling in the constituency.

She had also asked the commission to identify the people behind the conspiracy executed to tamper with the results and award exemplary punishment to them.

Through a tweet, Prime Minister Imran Khan had advised the PTI candidate to call for re-polling in 20 polling stations in the constituency.

Stances of rival parties

In reaction to the ECP’s order, federal Information Minister Syed Shibli Faraz hinted that the government might challenge the commission’s decision.

“Our legal team would review the detailed order and decide the future course of action accordingly,” the minister told reporters.

He accused the PML-N of indulging in “politics of money and fraud”.

While hailing the ECP’s judgement, the PML-N and PPP called for resignations of both Prime Minister Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar for what they called their involvement in attempted rigging.

PML-N’s Vice President Maryam Nawaz said the people of Daska had got what was due to them. In a video message she criticised the prime minister and said that Nawaz Sharif’s slogan of ‘Vote ko izzat do’ was resonating across the country.

PPP’s Secretary General Nayyar Hussain Bukhari said the conspiracy hatched to steal the Daska by-poll had failed and the prime minister and Punjab chief minister should resign “after being caught red-handed”.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2021

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