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The PTI’s rigging rhetoric

Opinion

June 22, 2015

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Following the PTI’s intense propaganda and agitation after the 2013 general elections, certain rhetoric regarding electoral rigging has somehow become an essential part of the national political discourse in Pakistan.
Forcefully alleging massive electoral rigging, the PTI demanded the formation of an inquiry body to thoroughly probe these allegations. Consequently, now an inquiry commission comprising three senior judges of the apex court, including the chief justice of Pakistan, are formally probing whether or not “the General Elections-2013 were organised and conducted impartially, honestly, fairly, justly and in accordance with the law.”
The PTI has hardly produced anything substantial before this commission so far.
At first, the PTI, by and large, accepted the result of the 2013 general elections. Out of a total of 272 National Assembly constituencies, only 30 candidates of the PTI challenged the results of these elections through various election petitions. Within the first few months, election tribunals disposed of 19 of these election petitions. But strangely, due to reasons best known to him, Imran Khan readily decided to jump on to the bandwagon of the Azadi March at once, initiating a prolonged protest against the incumbent PML-N government alongwith PAT leader Allama Tahirul Qadri last year.
During the PTI’s 126-day long sit-in in Islamabad, Imran Khan has constantly been pointing his finger at various quarters for rigging and manipulating the 2013 general elections. First, Najam Sethi, the former caretaker chief minister of Punjab was severely bashed for allegedly repairing ‘35 punctures’ in these elections to the benefit of the PML-N. Then, former CJP Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was blamed for manipulating these elections with the help of ROs.
Similarly, for airing an early victory speech of Nawaz Sharif in the late hours of May 11, 2013, Geo TV and its owner were also declared part of a ‘grand conspiracy’ against the

PTI. Finally, it was alleged that the PML-N, in connivance with some officials of the ECP had managed to print extra ballot papers by hiring 200 printing workers from Urdu Bazar Lahore. PTI leaders have been overplaying these rigging allegations to compel the PML-N government to step down during this sit-in in Islamabad.
Although the original 45-day time period, as provided in the presidential ordinance for the conclusion of inquiry has been expired, yet apparently this probing body is still clueless about the alleged electoral rigging in the last general elections. In fact, the complex nature of the question involved in the issue has put the judicial inquiry commission in a pretty awkward situation.
At present the judicial commission is simultaneously employing the legal instruments of both inquiry and trial. Just like a court trial, it is recording statements of individuals on oath, allowing parties to be represented and defended through their counsels, summoning witnesses on the requests of parties and allowing these parties to cross-examine them etc. Earlier, the federal government had also adopted a questionable procedure to form this inquiry commission through a presidential ordinance ignoring the legal implications of Article 225 of the constitution of Pakistan.
Ironically, Najam Sethi was summoned by the commission but the PTI didn’t ask him any question about his so-called 35 punctures during the proceedings. Similarly, necessarily inconsistent with its earlier rigging allegations, the PTI has also not requested the commission to summon Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry as well as the owner of Geo TV. After the admission made by Anwar Mehboob, the former Punjab Provincial Election Commissioner, before the inquiry commission regarding the printing and distribution of the extra ballot papers in these elections, now the entire proceedings of the commission are revolving around this single point.
Under the Representation of People Act, 1976, Form XV (Ballot Paper Account) is an important document which is required to be duly prepared and transmitted by a Presiding Officer to the Returning Officer (RO). This form contains detailed information regarding the number of ballot papers received, issued, counted, challenged and cancelled at each polling station on polling day.
In order to ascertain the logical implications of the printing of extra ballot papers, the inquiry commission has order the ECP to furnish the record of Form-15 of the 12 National Assembly constituencies where the number of ballot papers printed exceeded that of registered voters. Notwithstanding the final determination of the point by the inquiry commission, logically this alleged irregularity in 12 constituencies is most unlikely to affect the result of 272-seat general elections.
The much-trumpeted decision of the election tribunal regarding the NA-125 constituency, disqualifying Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, has already been suspended by the Supreme Court. It was not electoral rigging but certain electoral irregularities that led the election tribunal to declare the result of NA-125 null and void.
In this manner, the election tribunal has somehow rejected the rigging allegations levelled by the PTI in this constituency. As a matter of fact, this self-contradictory decision absolutely fails to convince how certain electoral irregularities in only seven polling stations can ‘materially affect’ the accumulated result of 265 polling stations, which is the necessary requisite for an election tribunal to declare void any election under section 70 of the Representation of People Act, 1976.
The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer.
Email: [email protected]

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