Friday May 24, 2024

Daska by-polls: LHC rules out ECP's authority to act against election officials

LHC declares ECP action against election officials over alleged rigging during Daska by-polls held on February 19, 2021 invalid

By Awais Yousafzai
December 21, 2022
Lahore High Court. — LHC website/file
Lahore High Court. — LHC website/file

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday ruled out the authority of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in taking action against the election officials allegedly involved in misconduct during the Daska by-polls.

"Only the departments concerned have the authority to take action against the officials over misconduct, the election commission doesn't," the court wrote in its verdict on the pleas challenging ECP's action against officials. 

The former Sialkot deputy commissioner and officials deputed for election duty during the controversial Daska by-poll held on February 19, 2021, had challenged the ECP's action against them in the high court. The court had reserved its verdict on November 25, 2022.

Challenging the action, the petitioners had maintained in their pleas that they were no longer officials of the ECP after the election, therefore, the action against them was illegal.

The February 19, 2021 by-election in the Sialkot constituency had gained national importance after a by-poll in the same constituency was declared void by the ECP due to multiple incidents of violence and serious irregularities.

Later, the electoral body initiated proceedings against officials involved in the Daska by-poll fiasco, following an inquiry report that revealed that the NA-75 Sialkot-IV by-election held in Daska was not held in a fair, free, and transparent manner.

Inquiry report

The ECP had launched the action against the alleged rigging after the findings of an inquiry report.

The NA-75 Sialkot-IV by-election held in Daska on February 19, 2021 was not held in a fair, free, and transparent manner, an inquiry report issued by the ECP had determined.

According to the report, a copy of which was seen by, the election officials and other government functionaries "did not play their designated role in a requisite manner [and] they were found puppets in the hands of their unlawful masters".

The fact-finding team gathered details from official records obtained from Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Islamabad; Intelligence Bureau, Islamabad; District Police, Sialkot; Elite Police Force; written statements and supplementary question and answer sessions of the presiding officers (POs), senior assistant presiding officers, naib qasids, drivers, and police personnel, etc, the report said.

Role of education department

Of the staff employed for election duty from the education department, Muhammad Iqbal Kaloya, Deputy Director (Colleges), Sialkot, was found involved in attending meetings at AC House, Daska, "which were meant for manipulating the election process", in which Ali Abbas, Zeeshan Javed, Asif Hussain, Firdous Ashiq Awan, Muhammad Awais, and some other persons were present.

According to the report, he "illegally summoned the POs in the office of Nawaz Cheema, Principal, Government Degree College for Boys, Daska, to pass on the following directions".

  • Slow down the voting process;
  • Voting should not increase above 25% in Daska city area;
  • Don’t interfere in the doings of the district administration and police and whatever they want to do, let them do it;
  • Close the polling station at 4:30pm with the help of police;
  • Cooperate with the district administration; and
  • Return to the RO office as early as possible.

Furthermore, Akbar Ghumman, Deputy District Education Officer (Secondary), Sialkot, was found "misguiding" the POs, while Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, Deputy District Education Officer, Daska, was found in an audio recording of using "filthy language which shows his concerns about the inquiry proceedings", the report said.

Daska by-poll ficaso

The ECP had declared the by-poll void due to multiple incidents of violence and serious irregularities and ordered re-election.

Later, PML-N's Nosheen Iftikhar won the by-election in Daska in the Sialkot constituency.

"I won the election on February 19. Special congratulations to Election Commission who took my victory away," PTI leader Ali Asjad Malhi — who won the February 19, 2021 election.

The PTI candidate had challenged the ECP order in the Supreme Court, but the petition was dismissed on April 2 and the apex court ordered that the poll be held on April 10 as per schedule.

According to provisional and unofficial results from all 360 polling stations, announced after midnight, at around 12:30am on Sunday, Iftikhar managed to secure 110,075 votes, whereas Malhi received 93,433.

The final tally means the PML-N won by a margin of 16,642 votes.