Judge disagrees with ECP statement on election cost

Published March 20, 2021
A view of the Supreme Court building's exterior. — AFP/File
A view of the Supreme Court building's exterior. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday told the Supreme Court that holding elections in a constituency costs about Rs19 million, but Justice Umar Ata Bandial questioned the assessment and said even a candidate has to spend a bigger amount on canvassing and campaigning.

“It transpired during one of the cases the court heard earlier that around Rs240m was incurred on the conduct of elections in one constituency,” he observed.

Justice Bandial made the observation while heading a three-judge Supreme Court bench (also comprising Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and Justice Muneeb Akhtar) that was hearing an appeal moved by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s candidate Ali Asjad Malhi challenging the ECP’s order for re-polling in the entire NA-75, Sialkot (Daska tehsil) constituency.

On Feb 25, the ECP had ruled re-polling would be conducted in the entire NA-75 constituency after suspicions emerged that results might have been ‘altered’ during the last by-election there. The decision was given on an application filed by the Pakistan Muslim League-N candidate Syeda Nosheen Iftikhar.

Composition of bench hearing PTI plea on Daska by-poll changed

On Friday, a different bench heard the case as during the last hearing on March 16 the bench consisted of Justice Bandial, Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed and Justice Sayyed Mazzahar Ali Akbar Naqvi. When the court heard the case on March 10, the bench comprised Justice Bandial, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and Justice Yahya Afridi.

The court, however, postponed further proceedings until next week when senior counsel Azam Nazeer Tarar told the court that the respondent’s counsel, Salman Akram Raja, had tested positive for Covid-19 and had mild symptoms of the disease. But Mr Raja was ready to advance his arguments through a social media platform.

During the hearing, Justice Bandial, after going through a map of the constituency provided by the ECP, noted that some people fired in the air in Daska city during the by-election, but police did not cooperate with the commission either because they lacked proper training or even if they reached the crime scene in time they became helpless.

Justice Muneeb Akhtar wondered whether the ECP, under Section 9 of the Elections Act 2017, enjoyed the authority to enhance the scope of its inquiry, adding that the Election Tribunal could have expanded the scope of the case had the matter been referred to it. “There is a clear distinction between the exercise of authority by the ECP and the tribunal,” he observed.

Justice Bandial also said the mysterious disappearance of 20 presiding officers, incidents of aerial firing and violence around the city, in addition to the killing of two persons, were crucial issues.

The petitioner, through his counsel Advocate Mohammad Shahzad Shaukat, had contended that the ECP, while hearing complaints about missing results from 23 polling stations, could not enlarge the scope of the case by ordering re-polling in the entire constituency.

He contended that the commission had no jurisdiction to pass a short order, adding that the complaint by the PML-N candidate pertained only to illegality and irregularity to the extent of 23 polling stations.

It was a settled law that the powers of the ECP under Article 218 of the Constitution, read with Sections 8 and 9 of the Elections Act 2017, were not absolute or unfettered but subject to judicial review by the courts, the petition had argued.

On the other hand, in her written reply Ms Nosheen Iftikhar had pleaded that the PTI plea be dismissed with cost, adding that all those responsible for the conspiracy that was executed on Feb 19 during the by-polls in the constituency be exposed, be removed from their respective offices and subjected to exemplary punishment in accordance with the law.

Her reply had pleaded that strict action against the delinquents would help create deterrence for all future elections, adding that no person responsible for the fraud that was carried against the voters of NA-75 during the by-election should be allowed to hide when the re-election would be carried out.

Ms Iftikhar’s concise statement pointed out that the press release issued by the ECP on Feb 20 had made it clear that when 20 presiding officers failed to reach the office of Returning Officer during the course of evening of Feb 19, there was a complete lack of cooperation on the part of the civil administration and Punjab police.

Meanwhile, vice chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council Khush Dil Khan and former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Syed Qalb-i-Hassan in a statement condemned the federal government for allegedly pressurising the ECP by demanding resignation of its members.

They also praised the commission for playing its constitutional role with neutrality with regard to the Daska by-election and the recent Senate elections “by sticking to the principle of secret ballot” as mandated by the Constitution, and without submitting to government pressure.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2021

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