ECP stays consolidation of NA-249 by-election result

Published May 2, 2021
The Election Commission of Pakistan on Saturday stayed the process for consolidation of result in NA-249 constituency and fixed May 4 as the date for hearing of PML-N candidate Dr Miftah Ismael’s application seeking a recount of votes.— Photo courtesy Radio Pak/File
The Election Commission of Pakistan on Saturday stayed the process for consolidation of result in NA-249 constituency and fixed May 4 as the date for hearing of PML-N candidate Dr Miftah Ismael’s application seeking a recount of votes.— Photo courtesy Radio Pak/File

• Fixes Tuesday for hearing of PML-N contestant’s application
• Fawad wants re-poll
• PPP’s Mandokhail won the April 29 contest

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Saturday stayed the process for consolidation of result in NA-249 (Karachi) constituency and fixed May 4 as the date for hearing of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz candidate Dr Miftah Ismael’s application seeking a recount of votes.

“Commission is satisfied that prima facie case exists for intervention, and therefore stays the consolidation process and direct the office to fix the application for recounting of votes for hearing before the Commission on 04.05.2021 with notice to the contesting candidates,” read the order passed by a two-member bench of the ECP, a copy of which is available with Dawn.

The ECP order stated the by-election for NA-249 was held on April 29 and the provisional result was announced the next day by the returning officer (RO).

It noted that Dr Ismail, the PML-N candidate, had filed an application the same day the provisional result was announced for a recount that was subsequently dismissed by the RO on May 1. The contestant later “submitted an application under Section 95(6) of the Elections Act, 2017 before the commission wherein he has requested for a complete recount of the entire constituency,” the ECP order added.

“The petitioner has further pointed out that there is a difference in the total votes recorded in Form-45 and Form-47.

“The petitioner has also submitted an application for the forensic audit of Form-45 with WhatsApp/RTS on April 30,” said the order. It noted that consolidation of the result had not been completed till then.

“The margin of victory is less than five per cent of the total votes polled in the constituency or 10,000 votes whichever is less in accordance with the provisions of Section 95 (5) of the (Elections) Act,” it said.

Section 95(5) of the Elections Act says, “Before commencement of the consolidation proceedings, the Returning Officer shall recount the ballot papers of one or more polling stations if a request or challenge in writing is made by a contesting candidate or his election agent and the margin of victory is less than five per cent of the total votes polled in the constituency or 10,000 votes, whichever is less, or the Returning Officer considers such request as not unreasonable”.

Section 85 (6) of the Act reads, “The Commission may, before conclusion of the consolidation proceedings, for reasons to be recorded, direct the Returning Officer to recount the ballot papers of one or more polling stations”.

While welcoming the ECP’s order, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain noted that the commission should go for re-election instead of vote recount in NA- 249.

In a statement issued here on Saturday, Mr Fawad said turnout in NA-249 constituency was very low, as a total of 21 per cent registered votes were cast and the winning candidate secured less than five per cent of the total votes polled.

The minister opined that such an election would ‘be a joke with democracy’.

“Everyone knew the situation of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and all parties have criticised the victory of PPP candidate in NA 249,” he said, adding that the losing party in every election usually criticised winner and demanded re-election.

However, Imran Khan, the minister said, was the only leader who had repeatedly highlighted the need to reach a consensus on this issue. “We have invited political parties to discuss the issue of electoral reforms,” he said, adding that it should not cry foul if the opposition was not ready for electoral reforms.

PPP candidate Qadir Khan Mandokhail had won the NA-249 by-election in Karachi by a small margin after securing 16,156 votes, according to the provisional results released on Friday while Dr Ismail had come in second with 15,473 votes.

The PTI and the PML-N had cried foul and subsequently rejected the results.

In a related development, an amalgam of dozens of non-government organisations working to make electoral processes transparent said the NA-249 Karachi West-II by-election on April 29 saw a substantial decline in voters’ turnout, mainly due to the hot weather and Ramazan. The ECP ensured strict compliance to Covid-19 standard operating procedures. Despite a competitive campaign, the poll recorded a turnout of 21.6pc of registered voters, dropping from 40pc reported for the constituency during the 2018 general elections.

“Observers representing the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) asked voters how satisfied they were with the voting process. Voters outside 98 polling stations — 18 men’s, 17 women’s, and 53 combined—expressed their satisfaction. In contrast, voters outside the remaining polling stations said they were partially satisfied,” stated a report released by Fafen on Saturday.

The observers found election material in enough quantities at all of the observed polling stations. Except for two incidents of unauthorised individuals going behind the secrecy screens at two polling stations, there were no other incidents that compromised voters’ secrecy. Except for two cases, the observers did not see party workers persuading voters inside the polling stations.

On the day of election, Fafen-trained citizen observers reported 143 violations, of which 55 were related to the presence of party camps in the polling stations’ surroundings. In 11 instances, the polling staff did not allow voters to cast votes and sent them back. At 19 polling stations, the observers saw the Covid-19 SOPs not implemented at all. The other 58 instances of violations pertained to procedural irregularities, mainly in voting and counting processes. On average, the observers reported 1.3 violations per polling station, the report explained.

PPP’s Mandokhail won the April 29 by-election by securing 22pc of the total polled votes. The party had secured only 6pc (7,236) of the votes polled during the general elections 2018. The NA-249 seat had fallen vacant due to the resignation of PTI MNA Mohammad Faisal Vawda, who became a senator in the election on March 3, 2021.

Fafen observers reported that the polling process was generally well organised at the observed polling stations. The polling agents of contesting candidates were present at all the observed polling stations, where they were seated perfectly and could easily observe the process.

While commenting on Dr Ismail’s vote recount plea, PPP leader Saeed Ghani said his party had won the by-election on the basis of a direct contact with the masses and not on the basis of any surveys. He tweeted that he would suggest to his party to offer the PML-N candidate a fresh polling in the constituency so that the PPP candidate could defeat him by a margin of thousands of votes next time. He also suggested Dr Ismail to accept his defeat and move on.

Earlier, former prime minister and PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told a presser in Karachi on Saturday that the NA-249 by-election had become more controversial than the Daska by-poll. Commenting on PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s press conference, the PML-N leader said he should keep in view his stature before talking.

In reply to a question, Mr Abbasi said doors of the Pakistan Democratic Movement were open for everyone, but there was no place in the PDM for those who violated the opposition alliance’s trust by allegedly making a deal with the establishment only to get the seat of the leader of the opposition in Senate.

Azfar-ul-Ashfaque in Karachi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2021

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