The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday rejected PTI’s plea seeking a recount of votes in PP-7 Rawalpindi-II — which it lost to the PML-N by a razor-thin 49 vote margin.
The decision was announced by a five-member bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikander Sultan Raja.
In the brief ruling, he said that the petitioner, PTI candidate Shabbir Awan, could neither prove any fraud or irregularity during the polls, nor was he able to state the reasons for the recount.
Immediately after it was announced, PTI leader Shafqat Mahmood took to Twitter, calling the verdict “against the law”. “Loss of neutrality and integrity by the ECP has far reaching consequences for democracy,” he said.
During the Punjab by-elections on Sunday, PML-N’s Raja Sagheer had won the by-poll on the provincial assembly seat with a margin of just 49 votes, defeating Awan. The PTI had also raised questions over the delayed announcement of the result in the constituency.
Subsequently, Awan submitted an application to the returning officer and requested a recount. His plea was, however, rejected drawing criticism from the PTI.
He had stated that the difference in votes between him and the winning candidate “falls under the prescribed threshold of five per cent of total votes polled and 10,000 votes pursuant to Section 95 (5) of the Elections Act, 2017”.
Later, Awan had approached the Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi bench assailing the RO’s “illegal decision” of rejecting plea for recount in PP-7.
But on Wednesday, the court restrained the RO from consolidating the result of PP-7 and converted Awan’s petition challenging the RO’s decision to reject plea for recount into an application to be taken up by the ECP.
“In order to streamline the process, the petitioner is directed to appear before the respondent [ECP] on July 21 at 10am when the needful shall be done,” it had said.
‘RTS system not used during by-polls’
The PTI’s petition claimed the results were uploaded on the RTS system.
During the hearing today, CEC observed that the PTI had not filed any application until 5pm on the day of the election.
“You submitted a request to the R&I department but withdrew it after 10 minutes,” he noted, saying that even after that the PTI blamed the ECP.
The CEC then called the officials of the R&I branch and asked them to submit a written account of everything that happened on the day of the polls, adding that all the matters should be clear.
Here, Awan’s counsel said that his client was present in court at the orders of the LHC.
Subsequently, reading out PTI’s petition which was submitted to the high court, ECP’s chief refuted the party’s claim that the RTS system was used during the by-polls.
PTI, PML-N’s arguments
At the outset of the hearing, Awan’s counsel said that they had approached the court as the margin between the votes of the two parties was very thin.
“Our law states that if the margin is less than five per cent, a request for a recount can be filed.”
He contended that as soon as the results were announced, his client had immediately approached the RO and later the court for a recount.
For his part, PML-N leader Raja Sagheer’s lawyer called PTI’s request “baseless”. “They failed to prove their point even in front of the RO.
“At first they were talking about the entire constituency. Now they are talking about 21 polling stations,” he said, adding that PTI’s stance was invalid because it kept changing.
Awan in his petition filed with the ECP claimed the result of PP-7 had been delayed though all the presiding officers had reached the RO in time. “….the result, despite all presiding officers reaching in time, was announced late at 1:40am on 18-07-2022 whereas the results for other constituencies were announced well before 8:00pm 17-07-2022, [that] also raises questions on the counting of votes [in] the said constituency”, the petition reads.
The petitioner further claimed when the results of 265 out of 266 polling stations was uploaded on the RTS, he was in the lead of 312 votes and at the climax of the results of the PP-7 Rawalpindi-II, RTS system broke down. “After considerable time when the RTS system was restored, polling station number 63, the 266th station, was already uploaded and PML(N) candidate won by a small margin of 49 votes,” he argued.
He also narrated the story of proceedings before the RO who he said instead of issuing notice under Section 95(1) of the Act took up for hearing the plea for recount. He said the contesting candidates were asked to await result to be announced at 6:30pm but then at around 9:30pm, they were told to leave and that they would be informed of the order over the phone. The RO in the late hours then rejected the application and simultaneously issued a notice for the consolidation of result.