ISLAMABAD: It is official now that over 90 percent Form-45 displayed on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)'s website do not bear the signatures of the polling agents.
Although the ECP spokesperson has admitted that many Form-45 have not been signed by the polling agents, according to him it was not a requirement of the Form-45 as there was no space for polling agent’s signature. However, the Section 90 (12) of the Elections Act 2017 clearly says that the presiding officer shall obtain signature of the polling agent on the form.
The Section 90 (12) of the Elections Act 2017 says, “The Presiding Officer, after preparation of the Result of the count and the Ballot Paper Account, shall sign them and obtain thereon the signatures of the senior-most Assistant Presiding Officer and an accredited observer, a candidate or his election agent or polling agents as may be present in token of the said documents having been prepared in their presence and if any such person refuses to sign it, the Presiding Officer shall record a note on the result of the count and the ballot paper account to that effect.
The News examined Form-45 of around 12,000 polling stations across the country to determine whether the vote count forms have been signed by the polling agents or not. In order to examine the data of Form-45, The News randomly selected sample data of 110 National Assembly constituencies and examined around 12,000 polling stations’ results. During the examination of this data, it was found that not even a single constituency has 10 percent signed Form-45 of the total polling stations. During the examination of these Form-45 a unified pattern of unsigned Form-45 was found controversial and uncontroversial.
The constitutional expert like Abid Hassan Minto, Pildat’s head Ahmed Bilal Mehboob and former secretary Election Commission Kunwar Dilshad have termed this exercise a major irregularity of elections 2018. According to Ahmed Bilal Mehboob if true this needs to be investigated by a Commission and the ECP must be held accountable on this major failure.
ECP spokesman while talking to The News says that there was no space for signature of polling agents on Form-45. “If you look at the content of the Form-45 there is no place for polling agent’s signature. Actually there was no requirement of the signature on that form that’s why the signatures of the polling agents were not obtained. However, the signatures of polling agents were obtained on Tamper Evident Bags — the bags which were used for transmission of results”, says the spokesman.
When asked if it wasn’t necessary, why some presiding officers obtained the signatures. The ECP spokesman replied that although there was no space for the signatures, some conscious presiding officers took signatures to fulfill the process.
When reminded the ECP spokesman that it is clearly mentioned in the Elections Act 2017 that presiding officer shall obtain the signature, he said the presiding officer might not be aware of the Elections Act that’s why they did not obtain signatures on Form-45.
The News selected 110 constituencies randomly including some controversial constituencies to examine their Form-45. However, during the process of examination a unified pattern (unsigned Form-45) was found nationwide constituencies. For example during the process of examination of NA-8 Malakand it was found that the Form-45 of only 15 polling stations out of 328 were signed by the polling agents. The remaining 313 polling stations sent the result without the signatures of polling agents. These 15 polling stations include PS 323, PS 317, PS 294, PS 288, PS 275, PS 254, PS 240, PS 220, PS 206, PS 201, PS 135, PS 113, PS 58, PS 41 and PS 11.
The News contacted one of the Presiding officers from this constituency who did not obtain the signature of the polling agent. According to this presiding officer, who requested not to mention his name for the sake of his security that due to delay in counting process the polling agents left the polling station at the time of completion of result of count. He said the counting process was completed at 9:30pm and by that time the polling agents had already gone to their homes.
It is pertinent to mention here that at that specific polling station, the polled votes were less than 300. When the presiding officer was asked how much time it requires to count less than 300 votes, he said it takes time and there was no other reason for not obtaining the signature of the polling agents.
During the process of examination of another constituency NA-18 Swabi, the presiding officers of around 37 polling stations cited the reason that the signatures of polling agents could not be obtained because they left for their homes before the completion of the process of Form-45. The presiding officers of almost 9 polling stations obtained the signatures of the polling agents. It is important to mention here that NA-18 had almost 283 polling stations.
Similarly, Punjab province’s first constituency NA-55 Attock has around 493 polling stations but the presiding officers of only 13 polling stations obtained signatures of the polling agents and the rest of 480 polling stations’ result is unsigned. These polling stations include PS 56, 66, 190, 197, 200, 212, 235, 245, 251, 263, 288, 311 and PS 329.
In another constituency of Punjab which is being considered most controversial -- NA-131 Lahore --, 24 out of 245 result of count Form-45 are signed by the polling agents and the remaining 221 Form-45 are unsigned. The polling stations which sent signed Form-45 include PS 7, 8, 13, 27, 43, 54, 56, 63, 65, 67,69, 70, 94, 97, 103, 109, 111,114, 145, 151, 155, 156, 206 and PS 228.
NA-108 Faisalabad is also one of the constituencies where the contesting candidates challenged the result. As per the data, only 24 out of 312 polling stations have sent signed Form-45. The remaining 288 polling stations result is unsigned. The signed Form-45 polling stations include PS 16, 17, 21, 22, 24, 25, 34, 36, 42, 52, 77, 79, 81, 94, 96, 100, 192, 206, 207, 252, 277, 294, 296 and PS 302.
Similarly, some interesting facts found during the examination of Form-45 from Sindh’s constituencies. For example NA-213 Nawabshah where former president Asif Ali Zardari contested elections has only one signed Form-45 out of 387 polling stations.
The data of Form-45 from NA-246 Liyari shows that only two Form-45 were signed by the polling agents. There were total 244 polling stations, the remaining 242 polling stations sent unsigned results.
In another constituency NA-249 Karachi where Shahbaz Sharif contested the elections, 23 out of 257 polling stations sent signed results. The remaining polling stations’ result was unsigned. The polling stations with signed result include PS 1, 9, 27, 28, 30, 36, 37, 39, 47, 62, 89, 92, 113, 115, 120, 159, 173, 177, 184, 213, 239, 240 and PS 257.
In one of the constituency in Balochistan NA-257 it was found that only six out of 138 polling stations’ result were signed by the polling agents and the remaining 132 polling stations result were unsigned. The polling stations with signed result include PS 17, 34, 45, 55, 122 and PS 125. Similarly during the examination process of one of the constituencies in Quetta it was found that only four out of 156 polling stations’ result was signed by the polling agents. The polling stations with signed results include PS 3, 47, 129 and PS 135.
Senior Constitutional expert Abid Hassan Minto believes that anyone can raise questions on the results if the signatures of polling agents are missing. According to him the presence of polling agent during the counting process is necessary and the presiding officers must have obtained the signature of the agent.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob terms this exercise a major irregularity. According to him this is a huge irregularity and the Election Commission must be held responsible for this failure. He demanded constitution of a Commission to probe this irregularity.
“I am quite amazed that even the winning candidate has not signed the Form-45. Normally the polling agent of losing candidate avoids to sign the result because in this condition the signature on Form-45 means accepting the result. However if it is a unified pattern that both the winning and losing candidates’ agents have not signed the Form-45 then it raises some serious question which needs to be probed,” commented Ahmed Bilal Mehboob.
Kunwar Dilshad, ECP former secretary says if true this is one of the major irregularities of elections 2018. According to him this is a clear violation of Elections Act 2017 and the presiding officers must be held responsible for this irresponsibility.