ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan on Tuesday ordered recounting of votes polled in the recently held by-poll in NA-249 (Karachi), igniting an indirect spate of words between the two main opposition parties — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — one hailing and the other assailing the ECP for its decision.
The exercise of recount of votes to be carried out on May 6 was ordered by a four-member bench of the ECP headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja on a petition filed by PML-N candidate Dr Miftah Ismail.
The commission directed the leaders of political parties that had contested the by-election to reach the office of the returning officer (RO) at 9am on Thursday for a vote recount.
PML-N president and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif, while welcoming the ECP decision, said he was “happy to learn” that Mr Ismail’s application was accepted. “The narrow difference in votes of the top contestants necessitated this in the interest of transparency. Credibility of vote is a sure foundation of democracy,” he tweeted.
Directs leaders of political parties to reach RO office tomorrow; PML-N hails, PPP assails decision
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari sarcastically welcomed the ECP’s move of allowing “constituency-wide recount without specific polling station complaints”. “Many seats from 2018 fall within the 5 percent threshold and candidates have not been given this chance. Once ECP Order is out PPP will consider going to the ECP for recounting in all such seats,” he tweeted.
The PPP information secretary termed the ECP decision surprising and criticised PML-N for seeking the army’s intervention after losing the by-poll in Karachi.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Miftah Ismail’s counsel Salman Akram Raja contended that the signatures of presiding officers of 167 polling stations were missing from Form-45 and the party’s polling agents were also not given Form-46.
He argued that Form-46 was just as important as Form-45, according to the Justice Nasirul Mulk Commission’s report. “Presiding officers are bound to provide Form-45 and Form-46 to polling agents. Signatures were absent from the Form-45 given by the presiding officers.”
The counsel asked the ECP to investigate “irregularities” in the April 29 by-election. He said the PML-N would submit a separate application for re-polling in the NA-249 constituency. “Recounting of votes in the NA-249 by-election is our first demand. If we are not satisfied, then we can also make further demands.”
Mr Raja argued that actions taken in 180 polling stations after the voting had ended were not in accordance with the law, stressing that recounting was not enough and the ECP would have to ‘intervene’. “The absence of verified Form-45 and Form-46 has made the entire election suspicious.”
PPP’s counsel Lateef Khosa argued that the PML-N did not raise any objection on any forum during the polling on April 29. “It is not enough to say there were irregularities. It needs to be identified where and what irregularities occurred,” he said. Returning officers were not bound to accept applications for recounting, he claimed.
ECP member from Punjab Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi observed that the case was against RO’s orders and not about polling stations.
At this, Mr Khosa said the PML-N candidate had submitted a “general” application to the RO. He said it was the RO’s job to release the results, wondering whether he was waiting for a stay order from the ECP. “PML-N objected to Form-45 at 2.30am in the night after being defeated,” he said.
The ECP member asked if the PPP candidate was satisfied with the RO’s order.
Mr Khosa said the RO had termed PML-N’s application “inappropriate”, adding that the ECP could not order recounting in the constituency in the absence of concrete reasons.
The counsel for the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) said that there was “no benefit” of a recount for the people of the constituency.
At this, ECP member Qureshi said that had the PSP been serious, it would have submitted an application to the Election Commission.
“We sent several emails to the ECP but received no answer,” the lawyer claimed.
Mr Qureshi assured the counsel that the ECP would hear the PSP’s application when it was received.
The CEC emphasised that “no irregularity of any kind would be tolerated”.
A representative for the banned Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) — which came third in the by-election — informed the ECP that the party’s polling agents had been “thrown out” of the polling stations and presented a ballot paper which, he claimed, was found in the street.
The PTI’s lawyer said polling agents were not given more than 70 Form-45.
“Is it possible that your polling agents did not sign Form-45?” asked the ECP member from Sindh.
The PTI’s lawyer replied that it was not possible that more than 70 people did not sign the form. “Not even one Form-45 was given to polling agents,” he said.
The counsel for independent candidate Masood Khan argued that recounting was not necessary when the margin of victory was less than five per cent.
Talking to reporters after the hearing, Miftah Ismail alleged that there was a “big irregularity” in the NA-249 by-election because 167 out of 249 forms did not bear signatures. He also claimed that there was a “substantial difference” in the number of votes mentioned in the forms given by the ECP and the forms obtained by the PML-N from other sources.
“We also said neither us nor any other candidate got Form-46 which is very necessary for accounting of Form-45 — how many ballots were used, how many were [provided by the ECP] — so no books can be stolen and presiding officers cannot add votes themselves before sealing the ballots,” he added.
PPP’s Qadir Khan Mandokhail had won the NA-249 by-election by a small margin. He secured 16,156 votes, according to the provisional results released on Friday, while Mr Ismail was runner-up with 15,473 votes.
The PML-N and PTI had rejected the results.
The ECP had accepted Miftah Ismail’s application for a recount on Saturday, saying that “.......the commission is satisfied that prima facie case exists for intervention, and therefore stay 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”.
Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2021