• ECP reserves verdict on pleas seeking transfer of petitions
• PTI terms Feb 8 polls most rigged in country’s history

ISLAMABAD: Chief Elect­ion Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja on Friday indirectly blamed judiciary for the complications witnessed during the process for general elections 2024.

While hearing applications filed by all the three MNAs from Islamabad seeking transfer of petitions pending before the tribunal against them, Mr Raja said he went to the then chief justice of Pakistan and chief justice of the Lahore High Court and requested them to spare judicial officers for performing duties as DROs and ROs, but to no avail.

The remarks came when Faisal Chaudhry, who appeared before the ECP’s four-member bench as counsel for PTI-backed candidate from NA-46 Aamer Masood Mughal, termed the Feb 8 elections the most rigged polls in the country’s history.

He pointed out that bureaucracy had been tasked with holding the elections twice — in 1977 and 2024 — and on both times they failed Pakistan.

The CEC’s remarks about non-availability of judicial officers for poll duties were also seen by many as an admission that DROs and ROs drawn from the bureaucracy had failed to deliver.

Faisal Chaudhry argued that ECP can neither make redundant the tribunal constituted for the capital, nor can it regulate its proceedings. “You cannot sit as a revisional or appellate authority on the orders of the tribunal,” he told the bench.

He cautioned that any decision taken by the ECP in violation of law would open floodgates of litigation, attracting petitions from across the country.

Opposing the applicant’s plea for constitution of a new tribunal, he pointed out there was no such prayer in the application and argued that ECP cannot go extra mile. He said that the applicant, a respondent in the case before the tribunal, had neither submitted a response, nor did he raise any objection over the election petition being time-barred there.

He said the tribunal had granted extra time to the applicant (MNA Anjum Aqeel Khan) for submission of his reply, yet he had failed to submit his reply.

He alleged that the application had been filed with malicious intent to cause damage to the answering respondent’s lawful cause.

He contended that the application was vague, cursory, and based on surmises and had been prepared on a misunderstanding of law on whimsical basis. The applicant has brought the presiding officer of the tribunal into ridicule, hatred and contempt, he added.

He told the bench that the entire exercise was aimed at delaying the proceedings before the tribunal, ICT, after failing to submit the reply to the election petition as per law.

Advocate Shoaib Shaheen, the PTI-backed candidate who had lost the election, argued that the ECP’s June 4 decision had been challenged in the Islamabad High Court, where the hearing was ongoing and a decision was awaited.

He termed all the arguments presented by the petitioners irrelevant and argued that the decision to transfer the tribunal could only be made in consultation with the chief justice concerned.

After hearing the arguments, the ECP reserved its decision on the tribunal transfer case.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2024

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