ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Saturday made public the story of ‘missing’ of around two dozen presiding officers along with polling bags in NA-75 Sialkot, the late night attempts made by the ECP to trace them and the alleged weakness of the provincial government functionaries in locating them.
The Election Commission expressed its fear that the results, shared by the missing presiding officers after a delay of at least six hours beyond the normal time, had been compromised, putting on hold the announcement of un-confirmed results.
The Election Commission maintained the results of NA-175 were received after inordinate delay and explained that several attempts were made to contact the presiding officers but these proved fruitless. It also pointed out that the chief election commissioner (CEC) himself tried contacting the Punjab inspector general of police (IGP) and the relevant commissioner as well as deputy commissioner, on receiving information from the district returning officer (DRO) and returning officer (RO) about the presiding officers, who had gone missing, but failed to establish a contact with them.
The Punjab chief secretary was contacted at around 3:00am to give assurance of tracing the 'missing' presiding officers and recovering the polling bags for the NA-75 results, the ECP said, adding that he too made himself unavailable afterwards.
The Election Commission said finally, the ‘missing’ presiding officers came out with the polling bags at 6:00am on Saturday. The DRO and RO reported that the results of 20 polling stations in the NA-75 by-election were suspected to have been changed and it was not possible to release the final result of the constituency without a full inquiry.
It said that the DRO will be sending a detailed report on the matter to the ECP. On its part, the ECP had directed the DRO and RO to conduct a complete inquiry and identify those responsible behind all this. They have, meanwhile, been stopped from announcing the initial results for the by-election.
The ECP directed the provincial election commissioner and joint provincial election commissioner to reach the office of the DRO and RO so as to make it possible to reach the bottom of the matter and ensure that the records were completely protected. The ECP said there appeared to be a weakness on part of the administration and law enforcement agencies with regards to the whole saga of events.
Once it receives the findings, the Election Commission will meet any time to decide on future course of action.
Meanwhile, the PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz demanded a re-election in NA-75 and declared the statement of ECP as a charge sheet against the government.
Maryam Nawaz said this in a press conference in Lahore. The PML-N Punjab President Rana Sanaullah and PML-N central leader Ahsan Iqbal were also present at the press conference.
Thanking the party workers and citizens of Nowshera, Sialkot and Gujranwala, Maryam said the people have guarded their votes and caught the vote thieves red handed. She said several videos of violence and vote stealing were already viral on social media clearly exposing the face of the present government which can be used as evidence against it. She also extended condolences to the families of the two people who died during the incidents of violence during the by-polls.
Maryam Nawaz claimed the government's own election camps were empty and the support of people for PML-N candidate was visible. "So they resorted to firing in broad daylight (in Daska and Wazirabad). There is a video in which you can see the PTI candidate and his relatives firing," she alleged, adding that it led to the tragic deaths of two youngsters.
"A video never lies," Maryam said, adding, "When there is evidence, it is shown and allegations are not levelled just like that."
She also alleged that the PTI leaders and government machinery made hostage several polling stations by closing the doors from inside and didn’t allow the public to cast votes even when there was enough time left.
She said this resulted in long queues outside polling stations and PML-N voters waited outside for hours. She said desperate voters, when time was about to draw to a close, started banging on the doors and forced their way inside. "When they were unable to keep them out, they resorted to running away with bags of votes," Maryam alleged.
"We don't know where they were the presiding officers were kept for 14 hours," she said. Maryam said there were claims of "fog". "Why were their phones turned off the entire duration?" she questioned.
Casting aspersions on the voter turnout in many polling stations, Maryam said according to graphs the voter turnout was around 30-35 percent and then mysteriously after the disappearance of presiding officers it shot up to 80-90 percent. She alleged that efforts were being made to change the results.
She demanded the ECP to take strict action against all the police officers, the administration and the government representatives involved in this. “The ECP must do justice and justice must be seen,” she said.
To a question, Maryam said the PML-N demands a re-election in the entire NA-75 Sialkot-IV constituency, alleging that polling was deliberately slowed down and voters were threatened.
She also hinted that the party may go for legal options against this historic rigging. She added that a request has already been submitted to the ECP.
Later Rana Sanaullah and Ahsan Iqbal also slammed the government for what they termed historic rigging in the by-polls. Rana Sanaullah said that PTI Ministers especially Firdous Ashiq Awan broke down all the rules of ECP. He alleged that PTI leaders resorted to aerial firing in Sialkot and other areas to threaten the voters. He said Usman Dar was also actively and openly roaming in the constituencies and visiting polling stations.
Meanwhile, the PPP termed the press release of the ECP a charge sheet against the Punjab government and the administration.
“The cases of abduction of presiding officers should be registered against the Punjab government and its administration,” said PPP leader Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar.
He said a free hand was given to ministers, advisers and armed men on the polling day. “The election staff was abducted under the patronage of the administration and the police,” he said.
In a separate statement, PPP Secretary General Nayyar Hussain Bokhari asked the ECP to take notice of the press conference of Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar and Finance Minister Hafeez Sheikh, saying that the press conference amounts to pre-poll rigging in the upcoming Senate elections.
Meanwhile, Special Assistant to Punjab Chief Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said that PML-N was showing double standards and levelling baseless allegations of rigging in Daska’s by-poll.
Addressing a press conference, Dr Firdous said that all presiding officers had sent results to returning officer through WhatsApp according to which the PTI’s Ali Asjad Malhi got 110,957 votes, while the PML-N’s Nosheen Iftikhar got 101,879 votes.
"We have reservations regarding returning officer as he is from the constituency of Ahsan Iqbal, while DMO is from the constituency of Khawaja Saad Rafique. “If RO had received forms 45 then why he did not announce the result,” she questioned.
Dr Firdous said that media should ask Rana Sanaullah that why he went there with his supporters besides asking the RO for his silence. The SACM said that institutions would not be allowed to become subsidiary of any party.
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