LAHORE: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has ordered a forensic audit of the video clips that went viral on social media in which loyalties of voters are reportedly being bought for Shaista Malik, a PML-N candidate for the by-poll in the National Assembly constituency of NA-133.

Polling for the seat, which fell vacant after the death of Shaista’s husband Pervaiz Malik, is due on December 5.

Returning Officer for NA-133 by-election Basit Ali has written to both the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority and the National Database and Registration Authority for a forensic audit of the videos to identify the people seen in the clips.

The letter points out that long queues of people outside the places where the alleged vote-buying spree was going on and banners and portraits of the candidate can be spotted in the clips, whereas behind-the-scenes discussions recorded in the clips suggest that voters’ credentials are being noted for buying their votes against the payment of some cash.

Election official asks PML-N candidate to explain her position; rival parties level allegations against each other

The returning officer has also asked the Punjab inspector general of police and Lahore commissioner to identify the people visible in the video clips and, after verification, initiate a strict legal action against them. Mr Ali also desires that the premises where the ‘vote-buying’ process was undertaken should be ascertained for a legal action.

In his separate letters to the relevant authorities, the returning officer has asked them to submit by November 30 reports identifying and penalising the accused accordingly.

The district monitoring officer has, meanwhile, issued a show-cause notice to Shaista Malik, directing her to explain on November 30 her position vis-à-vis purchasing of voters’ loyalties allegedly by her supporters.

The issue has led to a social media war between the two rivals — the PML-N and the PPP — with allegations and counter-allegations against each other containing past conduct in the electoral bouts.

The PML-N has rather approached the ECP against the PPP for allegedly purchasing loyalties of voters in the NA-133 by-poll. PML-N’s Arif Ismi submitted an application to the commission on Sunday along with video clips of alleged vote-buying activity by the PPP, alleging that the latter’s candidate Chaudhry Aslam Gill is involved in “corrupt and illegal practice of purchasing votes”.

The application pointed out the main election office of Mr Gill on Peco Road as well as [a local PPP leader] Faisal Mir’s premises in Kot Lakhpat industrial area as the venues for offering Rs2,000 for each vote.

Ali Pervaiz Malik, a PML-N MNA and son of Shaista Malik, took to his Twitter account to condemn what he called the ‘unholy business’ of purchasing votes by the PPP in NA-133 constituency. Hoping that the PPP leadership would take notice of the activity and put an end to the same, he claimed that the video clip involving PML-N workers in a similar activity was in fact a fabricated one being made viral on social media only as a counter strategy by the PPP.

He recalled that his late father had secured 90,000 votes for the same seat in the 2018 general election, while Mr Gill could not bag even one-tenth of the figure then.

On the other hand, Chaudhry Aslam Gill said the purchase of votes by the PML-N showed that it had mentally accepted its defeat against the PPP. Recalling the “politics of Chhanga Manga and Justice Qayyum’s audio leak” back in the 1990s, he said it was a routine tactic employed by the PML-N in each election. The PPP nominee said that such tactics of Nawaz Sharif had in fact made politics a pricier activity.

The ruling PTI, whose candidate was knocked out of the contest on technical grounds, chided both the PML-N and the PPP for the tactics exposed in their respective video clips, saying that’s why the two opposition parties were against introduction of electronic voting machines, which could eliminate manipulation of the election results.

“True face of the N-League stands exposed. In NA-133, women are being given cash in return for votes after taking oath on the Quran. That’s why they are against EVM machines,” PTI Senator Ejaz Chaudhary tweeted.

Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said at a public meeting in his hometown Jhelum that the talk of introducing voting machines had upset the PML-N and PPP the most. He asked if purchasing a vote for Rs2,000 was giving respect to the vote, a reference to the PML-N slogan.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2021

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