ISLAMABAD: In a controversial decision, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Monday constituted an election tribunal headed by a retired high court judge for Rawalpindi and Islamabad as it ordered transfer of petitions against all the three MNAs from the capital pending before an election tribunal, comprising Justice Tariq Mehmood Jehangiri.

Announcing its reserved judgement on applications filed by PML-N lawmakers Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, Anjum Aqeel Khan and Raja Khurram Shehzad Nawaz, a four-member bench of the ECP headed by the chief election commissioner ordered the transfer of the petitions against them to the tribunal formed on the basis of an impugned ordinance that empowers it to appoint retired judges as poll tribunals.

“We in exercise of powers conferred under Section l5l of the Act of 2017 accept the application for transfer of the subject election petition in the interest of justice and to ensure a fair trial in terms of Article l0-A of the Constitution hereby transfer the election petition from the learned election tribunal Islamabad appointed vide notification dated 17.02.2024 to the election tribunal appointed dated 07.06.2024. Office is directed to send the original record to the office of the election tribunal,” one of the three separate orders read.

Though the ECP never disclosed the formation of a new tribunal and a notification claimed to have been issued last week is still not available on the ECP’s website, a senior official of the commission told Dawn that the new tribunal headed by a retired judge had been formed for Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

New tribunal formed for Rawalpindi and Islamabad under impugned ordinance

The order says, “Rule 140 of the Rules has made it mandatory that an election petition presented before the office of tribunal, lacking any legal requirement provided in Sections 142 to 144 of the Act of 2017 shall be placed before the tribunal for summarily rejection of the same in term of sub Section-l of section 145 of the Act of 2017.”

It adds, “The record reveals that on 02.05.2024, on the very first hearing, the tribunal directed the ECP to submit original forms 45 and 46 respectively although the ECP was not implicated by the present respondent as party in the panel of respondents.

“There is no option available to a tribunal to cure any legal defect occasioned therein the election petition, prescribed under Section l42 to 144 of the Elections Act 2017 and in case if any provision of Section 142, 143 or 144 of the Act is not complied with, such election petition shall be summarily rejected in terms of Section I45(l) of the Act. In case a petition is presented beyond the statutory period provided under Section 142 of the Act, such legal defect could not be requisitioned either by the office of the tribunal or the tribunal itself.”

Section l5l of the Act empowers the commission to transfer election petitions from one tribunal to another at any stage.

“It is the exclusive domain of the Commission for providing complete justice to the parties in the petition and for fair decision in the matter in accordance with the law and the rules.”

It says the commission has the jurisdiction to appoint fresh election tribunals and to withdraw any election petition for swift disposal of the same.

“There are a number of examples available with the commission where fresh election tribunals have been appointed under section 140 (1)of the Act during the trial of the election petitions on one or other grounds.”

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2024

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