ISLAMABAD: The PML-N candidate for the Daska by-election will settle for re-polling to be held on 109 polling stations that the candidate’s legal counsel, Salman Akram Raja, deemed ‘controversial’.
Raja, however, told the court that the PML-N candidate’s primary request would stay the same; hold re-polling throughout the entire constituency.
Violence had marred the NA-75 by-election which had taken place on February 19, as firing incidences took the lives of two people and injured a few.
Clashes between PML-N and PTI workers led to the deaths. Both parties had blamed each other for the violence, after which the Election Commission of Pakistan ordered re-polling in the entire constituency.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan was hearing a petition filed by the PTI’s candidate from NA-75, Ali Asjad Malhi, in which he requested the ECP’s Feb 25 decision to hold a fresh by-election in NA-75 be dismissed.
“Even someone getting slapped is enough for polling to be held again in a constituency,” said Salman Akram Raja, arguing the PML-N candidate’s case. “The election is influenced when even a single person is subjected to torture,” he said.
“Salman Akram Raja sahab, please redirect your argument to the relevant points,” said Justice Umar Ata Bandial. “You are responsible for not completing your arguments during the last hearing.”
The judge told the counsel that “a storm had erupted” as he did not complete his argument during the last hearing.
“You have half an hour, complete your argument,” said the judge, adding that the court will hear PTI candidate Asjad Ali Malhi and the ECP next.
Raja said chaos had ensued at around 40 or 76 polling stations, adding that the perception was that clashes were taking place in the entire constituency.
“During the previous hearing, you said both the police and polling staff went missing for several hours [on the polling day],” said Justice Bandial.
The judge told Raja to present his argument over the missing presiding officers’ matter so that the court could ask for the petitioner, the PTI candidate, to reply to it.
Raja told the court that in rural areas of the constituency, the voter turnout was 52% while in the urban areas of NA-75, the turnout had been measured at 35% due to violence.
“The ECP said hindrances were created in the voting process according to a plan,” said Raja.
“The ECP did not mention any plan in its order,” responded Justice Muneeb Akhtar.
Justice Bandial said the ECP did not have the mobile phone records of the 20 missing presiding officers, wondering how that could be obtained.
“The election commission is a constitutional institution that conducted its own investigation,” said Raja. “Its decision will help thwart any similar attempts in future.”
He requested the court to accept the ECP’s decision to hold re-polling in the entire constituency as effective, based on these two reasons.
“Can you tell us how many presiding officers were under the control of the areas being managed by police officer Umar Virk?” asked the court.
“Eight presiding officers in those areas went missing,” said Raja. “Things went out of control in 109 polling stations,” he added. “This is such a large number that the ECP had to order re-polling in the entire constituency.”
Raja said the civil administration’s lack of cooperation during the by-election benefited the PTI candidate. He said presiding officers in Daska were kidnapped, which was a serious matter.
“Limit your arguments to the missing 20 presiding officers,” responded Justice Sajjad Ali Shah.
“If the ECP ordered re-polling at the ‘controversial’ polling stations, even that would have been appropriate,” said the PML-N candidate’s lawyer.
Raja said if re-polling cannot be held in the entire constituency then it should be held across 109 polling stations where the voting process had been marred.
“Our request, however, remains that polling should be conducted again throughout the constituency,” he said.
The PML-N candidate’s lawyer completed his arguments, after which the court adjourned proceedings till tomorrow, 10:30 am.
Re-polling in NA-75 suspended
In an earlier hearing, the Supreme Court had suspended the ECP’s order to hold re-polling in the constituency on April 10.
The bench had said the court needed more time to decide the case. “At the moment, we are hearing Salman Akram Raja’s [the PML-N candidate’s lawyer] arguments. We have to hear [the arguments of] other parties to the case apart from Nosheen Ahmed [PML-N candidate],” the court had said.
The apex court had adjourned proceedings of the case for an unspecified period. “The decision of the ECP to hold re-polling stands,” Justice Umar Ata Bandial had said. “For the moment, we are postponing the decision to hold it on April 10.”
Salman Akram Raja had presented a map of district Daska during the hearing of the case to which Justice Umar Ata Bandial had an interesting remark.
“You’ve prepared a lot of material in just a day’s time,” the judge had said.
In response, Raja pointed out there were 76 polling stations in Daska and that complaints of irregularities were reported in 34 of them.
“The ECP identified these 34 polling stations and even 20 presiding officers went missing,” he had said.
“It is even said polling was delayed at 10 polling stations for quite some time,” Justice Bandial had said. “The question is, who was behind such a move and why?”
The judge had wondered whether the irregularities took place because one candidate was strong and the other had to resort to such measures to win.
“Nosheen’s father has won from Daska five times,” Raja had argued. “Her family has a lot of influence in the city. She was supposed to poll 46,000 votes while the PTI candidate was expected to poll 11,000 votes,” he added.
Raja had said it was in the PTI candidate’s interest to mar the polls since its candidate did not stand a chance of winning the contest.