KARACHI: The recount of votes in the recently held by-election in the NA-249 constituency hit a snag on Thursday when the four key contesting parties – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and Pak Sarzameen Party – boycotted the exercise alleging unfairness in the process and a partial role of the returning officer (RO).

Within minutes after the recount began at the RO office, the leaders of the contesting parties that boycotted started turning away from the process claiming that the officials concerned failed to answer the justified questions and provide the necessary documents to them.

“This recount was ordered to bring more transparency after there were some reservations of the contesting parties,” said the PML-N candidate and former finance minister Miftah Ismail while talking to reporters after boycotting the recount.

“But today we are witnessing more unfairness. The RO has refused to provide us forms 45 and 46. Similarly, he has also refused to conduct a complete audit. Violating the defined rules, the unused ballots were not counted and signatures weren’t shown either. When we asked why there was no seal on the first ballot bag brought in, we were told that it might have fallen off. Is this a kind of joke?”

When asked his thoughts about the impression that he was not conceding defeat against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) which emerged victorious in the first count, Mr Ismail said he was not alone in raising the objection to the “flawed process”.

‘The RO has refused to provide us forms 45 and 46’

“I am not boycotting the recount alone,” he said. “The MQM-P, the PSP and the PTI have all come out. One seat makes no difference, but it is a matter of the sanctity of the vote. What’s the problem in correctly counting the votes?”

In a brief interaction with the media, MQM-P candidate Muhammad Mursaleen raised the same objections that the party had boycotted the recount process as there was no seal on the ballot bag and said: “The ballot bags were tied with pieces of rope.”

Only on Tuesday, the ECP ordered recounting of votes polled in the by-election in NA-249, igniting a war of words between the PPP and the PML-N as one hailed the decision and the other assailed it.

The exercise of a recount of votes was ordered by a four-member bench of the ECP headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja on a petition filed by PML-N candidate Mr Ismail.

Meanwhile, the ECP said the vote recounting in the NA-249 constituency would continue despite the boycott by the major contesting parties.

The ECP clarified that according to the chief election commissioner’s order issued on the PML-N’s petition, the commission was bound to recount only the votes that were polled and rejected.

“Despite the boycott, the recount process will be completed in line with the chief election commissioner’s orders,” said an ECP official.

However, Mr Ismail continued his efforts to get the process halted and wrote a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner pointing out the alleged irregularities in the recount.

He also demanded “temporarily halt the exercise immediately until instructions are given to the learned RO to follow the law and precedents and allow for a fair and transparent audit”.

In the letter, the PML-N candidate said that the RO was only allowing a recount of “valid” votes and checking of the invalid votes.

“He [RO] is insisting on not giving Forms 45 and 46, which were not given to us before either, and not letting us examine counterfoils or unused ballots,” the PML-N candidate said in the letter.

“There is no precedent of recounting, not including the counting of used ballots or the checking of Form 46 or of counterfoil signatures or seals.”

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2021

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