PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique dubbed the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government "champions of rigging" on Saturday, hitting out at the ruling party over the findings of an inquiry report released a day ago by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on irregularities in the Daska by-poll.
Addressing a press conference alongside former speaker of the National Assembly, Ayaz Sadiq, and other PML-N leaders in Lahore, Rafique questioned: "After the Daska report, is any other proof needed that this government stole the votes [it] needed?"
The by-poll, conducted in the NA-75 constituency, had turned controversial following incidents of violence, reports of rigging and the disappearance of 20 presiding officers (POs). Subsequently, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had withheld the results of the by-poll and ordered re-election in the entire constituency on suspicion that the results may have been falsified. A by-poll was again held in the constituency in April this year, with PML-N’s Syeda Nosheen Iftikhar winning the contest by securing 110,075 votes.
A report on irregularities during the February by-poll was released yesterday (Friday), wherein it was concluded that election officials, police and the local administration failed to play their "designated role in the requisite manner and were found [to be] puppets in the hands of their unlawful masters".
The report further stated that PTI leader and former special assistant to the Punjab chief minister Firdous Ashiq Awan had participated in meetings held at the Daska assistant commissioner's house for "manipulating the election process."
The inquiry revealed that the by-poll fiasco was a result of negligence and maladministration on part of relevant officials and a "pre-planned scam".
Referring to the report, Rafique said today that the PTI had made "false and hollow claims" about transparency and free and fair elections in the past and accused others of rigging elections.
"But, is there anything left for them to say after the [release of] the Daska report?" he questioned rhetorically.
'Govt planning daylight robbery of elections'
Commenting on the contentious electoral reforms proposed by the incumbent government, Rafique alleged that similar to the PTI having the helping hand of the Results Transmission System (RTS) in the 2018 general election, they were planning to have electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next polls.
He accused the PTI government of "planning a daylight robbery" of the 2023 elections, but warned that "the people of Pakistan and [the rest of the] political parties will not let them succeed."
Sadiq, meanwhile, said the government would be committing "constitutional violations" by implementing its proposed election reforms unilaterally.
On the use of EVMs, he said the people of Pakistan would not tolerate the government bulldozing the reforms for the use of the machines through the joint session of parliament, as they did in the NA.
He said his party, too, wanted to give voting rights to overseas Pakistanis — which is one of the proposals made in the reforms — but that the government was unwilling to discuss the matter with the opposition and wanted to introduce a mechanism to have complete control.
'PML-N has devised roadmap for protests'
The PML-N leaders also lambasted the government over spiraling inflation in the country. "Prices are soaring in the country, but the government remains unmoved," commented Rafique.
He said the PML-N had devised a roadmap and the party would take to the streets to demand from the government to reduce prices and control inflation. "It is their job to reduce prices, but they are not doing it."
The former railways minister went on to say the government needed to realise that the "system has failed and to prevent further disorder, the government needs to step down and hold new elections."
Sadiq read out a list of commodities, comparing their prices in 2018 with their current rates.
Criticising the government for the rise in prices, he said the growing inflation made people believe that the "rulers are thieves".
"The loans they have taken surpasses the amount previous governments borrowed over the past 10 years," he said.
He questioned the contrasting nature of the government's recent moves. "On one hand, the government announces a relief package, and on the other hand, it raises petrol prices."
"I have not seen a more inefficient government in this country in my life," he remarked.
Sadiq said it was "obvious" that Prime Minister Imran Khan was working in line with International Monetary Fund's policies.
"And it became even more apparent when [Prime Minister] Imran Khan said the increase in the value of the dollar benefitted Pakistanis," he added. "What was the logic behind this statement?"
The PML-N leader also berated the government over the National Accountability Ordinance.