ISLAMABAD: The rejection of a PTI candidate’s plea for recount of votes at all the 266 polling stations in PP-7 provoked a fresh salvo of accusations against the Elec­tion Commission of Pakistan, as the returning officer (RO), after a daylong exercise, decided that results of the Rawalpindi-II constituency would be consolidated at his camp office in Kahuta on July 20 at 10am.

The RO, who had earlier called all the contesting candidates at his camp office in Kahuta for a decision on the recount application on Tuesday, kept on changing time for a decision throughout the day after initially saying that recount at all the 266 polling stations was not possible.

Informed sources told Dawn that the returning officer Rai Sultan Bhatti, after hearing arguments from all sides for some three hours, asked the candidates to mutually identify 15-20 polling stations for recount.

PTI’s retired Colonel Shabbir Awan raised questions about the high number of rejected votes, which was over 30 times more than the margin of victory. He lost by a thin margin of 49 votes while the number of rejected votes was 1,516.

The main objection raised by him was that most of the votes had been rejected on the basis of the stamps affixed by the polling staff at the back of the ballot papers under a mandatory requirement. He argued that the voters and the candidates were not responsible if the stamp affixed by the polling staff was visible on the front side of the ballot.

“If there was still any doubt about ECP acting in support of PMLN….” PTI leader Shireen Mazari tweeted.

Claiming that the ECP rejected recount request of PTI candidate on PP-7, she said this was in clear violation of election laws and constitution given the minuscule margin of victory. She was of the opinion the ECP would entertain the request of PML-N candidate Nazir Chohan to delay announcement of by-election results on a flimsy pretext of law & order situation on polling day. “A similar request made earlier viz Karachi elections where 5 ppl were killed & dozens injured on polling day was immed rejected by ECP and MQM’s winning candidate’s notification was issued the very next day! Such a blatant bias favouring PMLN is now too obvious. CEC must resign,” she tweeted.

“Returning officer has not allowed for recount in ‪#PP7, what else proof is needed of a biased Election Commission. PTI will not accept this, if we let it to, imagine what will happen in General Elections,” PTI leader retired major Tahir Sadiq tweeted.

According to the election officials, RO refused to order recount at all the polling stations but suggested the candidates of the PTI, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and other parties to mutually decide and identify any 15 to 20 ‘objectionable’ polling stations where votes should be recounted.

The RO also allowed some time to all the candidates to consult their legal teams for the purpose.

PML-N candidate Raja Sagheer Ahmed objected to the recount of ‘rejected’ votes, saying that the request for a recount of votes, which were ‘not approved or rejected’, should not be entertained.

Later, while talking to the media PTI’s lawyers said: “We have applied for a recount of 1,516 rejected votes and a recount of the votes including investigation. They said the RO asked to announce the decision at 6:30pm.”

Talking to Dawn, former MNA and PTI spokesman Sadaqat Abbasi said the PP-7 result was ‘doubtful’, as the PTI candidate was winning at 265 polling stations and his position changed all of a sudden with the last polling station result.

He said Mr Awan had submitted an application for ‘consolidation of result’, but the RO reserved the decision on Tuesday. The party workers and candidate were asked to wait till 6:30pm, but then the RO gave message to return home and he would inform the candidate over the phone about the decision.

“It is strange that RO refused to meet any candidate and his lawyers or party leaders. I personally requested to meet him but he declined. He (Returning Officer) did not know about the decision,” he alleged.

He said that the role of administration and election commission was ‘doubtful’ during the election campaign also. “Now it is delaying the issue,” he said, claiming that it was the candidate’s right to ask for recount of votes when there was a very thin difference of mere 49 votes.

According to unofficial results, PML-N candidate Raja Sagheer won the by-election for the provincial assembly. He got 68,906 votes while PTI’s retired colonel Shabbir Awan got 68,857 votes, Hafiz Mansoor of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan 14,775, Raja Tanveer of Jamaat-i-Islami 1,666 and independent candidates Engineer Raja Nazakat Hussain 339 votes and Raja Wasim bagged 3,084.

For the PP-7 Rawalpindi constituency, having 335,295 registered voters, a total of 266 polling stations with 787 polling booths had been set up.

As per result, the turnout was 47.46 per cent as 159,143 votes polled and 1,516 votes were rejected.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2022

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