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ISLAMABAD, Nov 28: The Supreme Court suggested on Wednesday that the army and Rangers should be used to re-launch the door-to-door voter verification campaign in Karachi.

The court was of the opinion that the exercise would help identify and weed out unscrupulous and criminal elements responsible for the breakdown of law and order in the country’s largest city and ensure peaceful, free and fair elections.

But when the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Election Commission of Pakistan opposed the idea, the court reserved its final word on the question.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed had taken up petitions of PTI chief Imran Khan, Jamaat-i-Islami Amir Munawwar Hassan, PPP’s Jehangir Badar and PML-N’s Irfanullah Khan Marwat complaining that votes of a sizeable number of people have been registered in their native towns of Swat, Mingora, Mansehra and Attock, although they have been living in Karachi for 10 to 15 years.

Advocate Rasheed A. Razvi, representing the JI, cited a classic example of faulty electoral rolls, saying that a small house in Karachi’s PECHS area had 653 votes registered at the address.

The court showed inclination to ordering the ECP to re-conduct the verification campaign on the basis of complaints brought to its notice by the petitioners. It expressed the hope that the exercise would help serve the national interest and also ensure free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections which had become a major issue in the city.

“Karachi is the face of Pakistan and using the army will help improve economy of the city,” the chief justice observed. He said the court expected a positive outcome of the exercise in view of peculiar circumstances of the city.

But Senator Dr Farogh Naseem, representing the MQM, opposed the idea and said his party would support it only if the exercise covered the entire country and not only Karachi.

The counsel sought time to consult the leadership of his party on the matter, but returned with another request that he needed more time so that the entire party could sit and come up with a practical solution.

He suggested that Chief Election Commissioner Fakhurrin G. Ebrahim, who commanded respect of the entire country, should be asked to listen to the grievances of the petitioners and pass a speaking order to settle the controversy. “This will help save court’s precious time.”

Senator Naseem cited a 2007 judgment of the Indian Supreme Court which held that political parties could not claim rights over the votes of people.

Referring to a reply submitted by the ECP, he said the commission had already touched almost 80 per cent of voters and there was no guarantee that similar complaints would not come even if the exercise was repeated.

He alleged that the petitioners were complaining because they had failed to beat the MQM in Karachi. He contended that the petitions filed at the behest of political parties were not maintainable.

“The entire list of voters cannot be scrapped on mere identification of some errors in the electoral rolls. Errors can be rectified umpteenth times till the announcement of election date,” Senator Naseem said, adding that a voter could register complaints with the ECP and an appeal against its decision could always be filed in courts. Referring to the law and order situation in Karachi, he said Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and South Punjab were facing a similar situation.

Munir Paracha, the counsel for the ECP, informed the court that only 68,000 voters could not be approached in Karachi whereas duplicate votes of over a million people had been rectified. The commission had conducted door-to-door verification exercise in all cities of the country, he added.

“We fail to understand why the commission is reluctant to repeat the exercise,” the chief justice said. But he acknowledged that if an order for repeating the exercise was issued similar complaints might also start pouring in from other districts of the country.