• Judge says court wants to set guidelines on conduct of elections
• PML-N candidate says ruling will discourage rigging
• PTI accepts decision, says reserves right to file review petition
• ECP secretary told to finalise arrangements for re-polling
ISLAMABAD: The PML-N’s Syeda Nosheen Iftikhar burst into tears the moment the Supreme Court rejected on Friday the PTI’s appeal against the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision to hold re-election in the entire Daska constituency.
“This decision is not (only) in my favour but of entire Pakistan,” commented a beaming Iftikhar while coming out of Courtroom No 3 where a three-judge SC bench comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and Justice Muneeb Akhtar announced the unanimous short order.
“After this decision, no one will ever dare plan rigging to steal any election,” said Ms Iftikhar.
“We have decided that we cannot accept this appeal,” pronounced Justice Bandial in a packed-to-capacity courtroom when the lawyers of the contesting parties concluded their arguments. Justice Bandial also dropped hints that the case was not simple and said the court wanted to lay down guidelines regarding future conduct of the elections in the country as well as the exercise of its jurisdiction by the ECP.
On March 25, the Supreme Court had ordered the ECP to postpone the schedule for holding by-election on April 10 in the contentious constituency NA-75 Daska tehsil. With the rejection of the appeal, the election is expected to be held as per the earlier decision.
Soon after the apex court pronounced the order, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja issued orders that the secretary of the commission should rush to Lahore and finalise arrangements for holding the scheduled re-election after having consultations with all stakeholders.
The CEC also directed the secretary to ensure that the election was conducted in the contentious constituency in an impartial, free, fair and transparent manner.
The CEC’s directives included opening of the provincial election offices on Saturday as well as Sunday and that the concerned offices at the Islamabad secretariat would also remain open on these days to extend facilitation.
The court had taken up the appeal moved by the PTI’s Ali Asjad Malhi challenging the ECP’s Feb 25 decision to hold re-election in the entire constituency after suspicions that the results of the by-poll held earlier might have been falsified. The ECP gave the decision on an application by PML-N candidate Syeda Nosheen Iftikhar. Later the ECP postponed the by-election to April 10.
Talking to media, Mr Malhi said he accepted the decision rendered by the apex court, adding that the PTI was prepared to contest the election with vigour and zeal.
“We reserve the right to file a review petition against the verdict but a final decision would be made after the apex court issues detailed judgement,” he said.
Mr Malhi was confident that the PTI would emerge victorious in the coming election in Daska.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Youth Affairs Usman Dar said his party would not criticise the constitutional institutions like PML-N leaders and would accept the verdict.
While closing Friday’s proceedings, Justice Bandial appreciated the lawyers representing the contending parties by saying the court had heard good arguments. He extended compliments to Salman Akram Raja advocate who was representing Ms Iftikhar and said today’s arguments of Shahzad Shaukat advocate, the counsel for Mr Malhi, were also compelling whereas Mian Abdul Rauf of the ECP also ably assisted the court.
“We have looked at the constitution and the law and considered our jurisdiction as the appellate court and wish to pass a short order the detailed reasoning of which will come later,” Justice Bandial said.
“On account of the facts that stand established and did not need any further probe, we have decided that we cannot accept this appeal,” Justice Bandial said.
Earlier during the hearing, ECP lawyer Rauf contended that the Feb 25 decision of the commission was on the basis of grave irregularities committed on the Feb 19 polling day when election process remained suspended in 13 polling stations and incidents of aerial firing occurred at different places.
He emphasised that the commission enjoyed the authority to annul the entire election process if different provisions of the Election Act 2017 were violated.
On rebuttal, the PTI candidate’s lawyer contended that police squads were not provided to the presiding officers and only one police guard was deployed with each presiding officer.
Justice Bandial observed that irregularities and illegalities were committed on the election day since two persons were killed and 20 presiding officers went missing, adding that the ECP failed to take appropriate measures to conduct the election in a peaceful manner.
The entire election process suffered a setback with the missing of the 20 presiding officers, and when these officers surfaced they were looking sheepish, Justice Bandial noted.
Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2021