Official shunted after rigging bombshell

Published February 18, 2024
Rawalpindi Commissioner Liaquat Ali Chattha  surrenders himself to police. — AFP
Rawalpindi Commissioner Liaquat Ali Chattha surrenders himself to police. — AFP

• Pindi commissioner Chattha admits role in rigging, blames CJP, CEC without proof; Jappa new commissioner
• Justice Isa says top court not concerned with polls, asks commissioner to produce evidence
• ECP forms high-level committee to probe claims; contempt decision against Chattha after inquiry
• Punjab govt orders inquiry; minister says commissioners have no role in polls; Jappa, DROs refute allegations

RAWALPINDI: Another layer of controversy was added to the already disputed elections on Saturday after Rawalpindi Commissioner Liaquat Ali Chattha accused the Election Commission of Pakistan and Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa of involvement in the ‘rigging’ — a claim denied by the ECP and the CJP.

These allegations came almost a week after the Feb 8 polls on a day when PTI and other political parties decided to kick-start their nationwide anti-rigging campaign, claiming they were deprived of their mandate through ‘massive rigging’.

The commissioner, who has now been transferred to the Services and General Administration Department (SGAD) in Lahore, was scheduled to hold a press conference regarding the Pakistan Super League (PSL) arrangements at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium. But instead of the presser, he had an informal chat with reporters in which he made the startling claims.

According to Mr Chattha, he was disclosing the information about alleged irregularities in the election on the call of his conscience. He also accused CEC Sikandar Sultan Raja and Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa of being a part of the “rigging plan”.

The ex-commissioner said that he had decided to resign and took responsibility for supervising the theft of public mandate by changing the results of 13 National Assembly constituencies in six districts of Rawalpindi Division.

Mr Chattha claimed the candidates who were “losing” the elections “were made to win” and that the process to justify the manipulated results was still going in “an organised manner at some offices”.

“I am taking responsibility for all this wrongdoing and telling you that the chief election commissioner and the chief justice are also completely involved in this,” he alleged. He claimed the candidates ahead with up to 70,000 votes were declared runner-up as a result of alleged rigging.

“We made independent candidates…lose by putting on fake stamps,” he added.

“I should be punished for the injustice…should be hanged to death at Kutchery Chowk and others who were involved in this injustice should also be punished,” he said.

He said he was unable to sleep at night after “stabbing the country in its back”.

According to the officer, he was on the brink of suicide but resisted because he needed to share this information with the public and then resign from his post.

Mr Chattha also advised the bureaucracy to stop accepting “illegal orders”.

Office sealed

After the press conference, the outgoing commissioner surrendered himself to the police, who arrested him and sealed his office.

A local official said the office was sealed since the administration wanted to prevent record tampering.

However, a police spokesman said the commissioner was not arrested as there were no cases against him, but he was in the “custody” after the allegations.

Mr Chattha has been shifted to some unknown place.

A senior district administration official said security of the polling staff, returning and district returning officers had been increased and election material and data has been secured.

He said though election results were already provided to the ECP, the official record with ROs has also been protected.

CJP rejects allegations

Both the CJP and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) rejected the allegations, with the former saying the Supreme Court only dealt with election-related petitions.

The CJP said evidence should be produced after Mr Chattha’s allegations of rigging.

He said his role in the Feb 8 elections was limited to merely directing Presid­ent Arif Alvi and the chief election commissioner to decide a date.

Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, the chief justice said Supreme Court judges did not give any order for elections.

“Let me make this clear… an argument was ensuing between the president and CEC so we merely told them to sit and decide,” he said.

“If someone else did not want them [elections] to take place, it’s another thing.”

CJP Isa indicated that the court may not initiate contempt proceedings over the rigging allegations. “I am against contempt myself.”

ECP forms committee

The ECP not only rejected the allegations but also formed a committee to probe the claims made by the former commissioner.

“Neither is the commissioner of any division ever appointed as a DRO, RO or presiding officer nor do they ever play a direct role in the conduct of elections,” ECP said in a statement.

The high-level committee set up by the election watchdog will quiz the relevant ROs and DROs in light of the commissioner’s allegations.

The panel will be headed by a senior ECP member and include the secretary, special secretary, and the additional director general (law).

The decision about contempt proceedings against the civil servant will be taken in light of this report.

Inquiry ordered

Separately, Punjab’s caretaker information minister, Amir Mir, said the former commissioner failed to present any proof of his allegations to justify his claims.

“The commissioner has no role in the conduct of elections as they are held under the supervision of election watchdog.”

Mr Mir added that the chief minister had ordered an inquiry into the allegations and it would bring all facts before the public.

However, the committee had not been constituted till late in night.

Mr Mir said Mr Chattha’s promotion to Grade-21 was rejected on Feb 12, merely a month before his retirement.

He alleged that Mr Chattha wanted the promotion to “get perks and privileges allocated for BPS-21”.

Transfers

Mr Chattha was transferred on Saturday night and Rawalpindi De­v­e­lopment Authority DG Saif Anwar Jappa was given the additional charge.

Soon after taking charge as the commissioner, Mr Jappa along with DROs of Chakwal, Jhelum, Attock, Tala­gang, and Rawalpindi districts said there was no pressure to tamper with election results.

The DROs also demanded a probe into the allegations levelled by the ex-commissioner.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2024

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