The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the deferral of re-polling in the NA-75 (Daska) constituency, scheduled to be held on April 10, saying that the court needed more time to decide the case.
Justice Umar Ata Bandial, who is heading a three-member bench hearing the petition filed by PTI candidate Ali Asjad Malhi, said that the court was "postponing the April 10 re-polls for now" so the arguments of all the respondents could be heard.
He observed that Advocate Salman Akram Raja, counsel for PML-N candidate Syeda Nosheen Iftikhar, had raised important points during the hearing.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had last month voided the by-election held in NA-75 on February 19 — which was marred by deadly clashes between workers of the ruling PTI and PML-N, the mysterious disappearance of around 20 presiding officers and suspected tampering of results — and ordered re-polling in the entire constituency.
The decision was challenged by Malhi, who argued in his petition that there was "no legal justification" for the ECP to declare the polls null and void, adding that the ECP's order was "clearly contrary to law and facts of the case".
During the hearing today, Advocate Raja informed the court that there were 76 polling stations in Daska. Complaints had been received from 34 of those stations while 20 presiding officers also "disappeared", he added.
Justice Bandial recalled that the court was previously told that the voting process had remained suspended at 10 polling stations for a long time on Feb 19. "The question is who created these problems on the day of polling and why. Was one candidate strong so the other one had these actions taken?" he asked.
Advocate Raja replied that PML-N candidate Iftikhar's father had been elected in the constituency five times and her family is influential in the area. "Nosheen Iftikhar got 46,000 votes while the PTI candidate got 11,000 votes. [The perpetrators'] purpose was to affect the polling process," he said.
"You started the unrest according to reports," Justice Bandial told the PML-N lawyer in response.
He added that the PML-N seemed to be happy with the election results since it had not raised any objections to which Raja replied that the party had filed a petition with the ECP in connection with the NA-75 by-polls.
Justice Bandial said the PML-N candidate's counsel would have to prove to the court why re-polling in the entire constituency was necessary on complaints regarding 23 polling stations.
He also questioned Raja whether the presiding officers had left the polling stations as per procedure, to which the counsel replied that they had left along with police officials. However, their return was "unusual as they came back together and were afraid", Raja added.
Justice Muneeb Akhtar questioned the process through which the ECP had taken the decision of holding re-elections in the entire constituency.
Raja replied that the ECP had taken the decision after "complete action according to its code of conduct".
"The Election Commission gave everyone the opportunity. No one raised any objections to re-polling in the entire constituency. The effect of what happened in Daska on the day of polling is important," he further said.
The bench observed that Raja's arguments had not yet finished while the other respondents also had to be heard.
"While the ECP decision still stands, the April 10 [re-polling] is being postponed for now," Justice Bandial said.
The court adjourned the hearing for an indefinite period.