• Commission is required by law to upload key poll documents on its website by today
• ECP official says they are still hearing around 300 challenges to preliminary results
• Lawmakers say attempts to tamper with Form 45s can lead to ‘high treason’
• ECP body completes inquiry into Chattha’s allegations, due to submit report today

ISLAMABAD: With the clock ticking, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is under mounting scrutiny to fulfil its obligation of posting key post-election documents — Forms 45, 46 and 47 — on its website by Feb 22, a move considered critical to ensure poll transparency.

This requirement, as stipulated under Section 95 of the Elections Act 2017, mandates returning officers to submit comprehensive election results to the ECP within 24 hours of vote consolidation, with the ECP then having 14 days after polls to make these documents publicly accessible.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum have urged the ECP to meet the legal deadline, while sources in the commission insisted it was unlikely to be done.

Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan of Jamaat-i-Islami told Dawn the ECP’s failure to meet the legal requirement would put a question mark on the legality of the Feb 8 elections.

He warned that any attempts to tamper with the Forms 45 would make it a “fit case of high treason”. He, however, agreed that this would not be the first time the ECP would miss a legal deadline.

Senator Tahir Bizenjo of the National Party also demanded that the mandatory requirement of the law be met, suggesting that the ECP’s failure to timely upload the key documents on its website would add fuel to the fire and exacerbate existing tensions and doubts surrounding the election results.

He, however, regretted that the law and Constitution existed only on paper. He said the elections were already controversial, alleging that results had been prepared before voting and that the electoral exercise was just a formality.

Senator Irfan Siddiqui of PML-N, however, told Dawn that organised efforts were underway to make the elections controversial. He recalled that the same had also been done after the 2013 general elections, which were held to be in line with public opinion by a judicial body headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk.

That time they alleged 35 ‘punctures’ and now they are talking about variations between Forms 45 and Forms 47,“ he said.

‘Delay to cause more harm’

Meanwhile, the Pattan-Coalition 38, an independent election observation group, has also reminded the Election Commission that Feb 22 is the last date to publish the key documents on its website.

“We note with extreme concern that any delay in this regard is likely to cause more harm not only to the repute of the ECP as it is already under tremendous scrutiny, criticism and pressure, but will also seriously damage public trust in electoral democracy and state institutions,” it said in a statement.

It said the conduct of the general election has already tarnished the ECP’s image in the eyes of the public and the international community. It said the ECP had undermined its own stated vision and its mission statement, which says: “We strive to hold free, fair and transparent elections that truly reflect the will of the people in democratic processes.”

Pattan said the ECP could still prevent further harm by uploading the original Forms 45, warning that any tampered forms were likely to deepen the nation’s rage.

“We would therefore like to remind the ECP that transparency in elections is as important as freeness and fairness,” it said. “The uploading of true Forms 45, Forms 46, and Forms 47 will greatly help to regain the lost trust of the people in the working of the ECP, which is extremely crucial to build political certainty in the country, and that is essential to revive the economy.”

ECP ‘unlikely to meet deadline’

Meanwhile, a senior ECP official told Dawn the electoral watchdog was unlikely to place the documents on its website today (Thursday).

He said that around 300 petitions alleging differences between Forms 45 and 47 had been forwarded to the commission by high courts, setting timelines for decisions. He said many petitioners were carrying Forms 45, which were different from the ones possessed by the respondents. He said it would take some time to verify the authenticity of these documents.

Verdicts reserved on three seats

Besides, the Election Commission reserved its verdict on Wednesday on a petition filed by PTI-backed candidate Salman Akram Raja against alleged change in the election results of Lahore’s NA-128 constituency.

During the hearing by a two-member ECP bench, the petitioner appeared along with Advocate Makhdoom Ali Khan, while lawyers Shahzad Shaukat and Ziaur Rehman appeared on behalf of Awn Chaudhry, Mr Raja’s rival candidate.

Mr Raja, himself a senior lawyer, said that according to Forms 45, he had won the seat but had been defeated as per Form 47.

He pointed out that according to Form 45, there was a clear difference between the votes cast in the provincial assembly and the National Assembly. He alleged that 110,000 fake votes were cast.

Mr Chaudhry’s lawyer argued that this was not a case of the ECP, but of the election tribunal, and according to the law, it was not necessary to have a candidate around while furnishing Form 47. The bench later reserved its judgement in the matter.

The Election Commission also reserved its verdict in the election case concerning Karachi’s NA-235 and NA-236 constituencies. The ECP’s members in Sindh and Punjab, Nisar Ahmad Durrani and Babar Hassan Bharwana, heard the case.

Mr Durrani remarked that the returning officers of the two constituencies had submitted their reports.

The lawyer representing the petitioner, Saifur Rehman, said that “we have only one request that there is a difference between Forms 45 and Form 47”.

The lawyer said the Election Commission had to differentiate between the original and fake Forms 45, and if the outcomes were based on fake forms, the results for the constituency would have to be declared null and void.

When Mr Durrani asked whether these matters should be sent to election tribunals, the petitioner’s lawyer replied that according to the Elections Act, the ECP could give decisions on these applications. He said four political parties had a different version of Forms 45, whereas the ones held by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan were different.

Mr Bharwana of the ECP noted that today (Thursday) was the last day to give decisions on 50 applications, wondering how the Election Commission could scrutinise all Forms 45.

The lawyer said that according to Forms 45, Saifur Rehman received 113,000 votes, whereas only 1,100 votes were written in Form 47.

To this, the ECP member remarked: “I wonder who can dare to convert more than one lakh votes.” The lawyer said it was the ECP’s responsibility to determine this and prevent such rigging in future.

Mr Bharwana said that with complaints about Forms 45 coming from all over the country, how the Election Commission could scrutinise millions of forms. He also noted that conducting a forensic audit of Forms 45 appeared to be a criminal matter.

Inquiry on Chattha’s allegations

In a related development, the ECP’s inquiry committee formed to investigate the allegations levelled by the Rawalpindi commissioner, Liaquat Ali Chattha, has completed its work within the stipulated period of three days and will submit its report to the Election Commission today (Thursday).

“The committee has recorded statements of the DROs and ROs of Rawalpindi division,” an official told Dawn. He said the DROs and ROs denied allegations of rigging and the manipulation of results, as alleged by the former commissioner.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2024

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