ISLAMABAD: The Returning Officer (RO) of NA-75 Daska by-poll claimed during an appearance before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday that apparently the Daska by-election results were altered as presiding officers of 23 polling stations were seemingly found involved in rigging.
In his report along with the record of the polling process submitted in the ECP, RO Athar Abbasi said that the investigation revealed that the presiding officers were involved in rigging. PML-N candidate in the constituency, Nosheen Iftikhar, raised reservations over the results by stating the difference between the Form 45 copy available with her and with the presiding officer. According to presiding officers, the PML-N candidate secured 3,500 votes from 23 polling stations, while Nosheen claimed getting 5,000 votes, the RO said in his statement. It appears that the results were altered, the RO claimed and suggested re-polling at 23 polling stations.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja said the ECP would reach a conclusion after complete deliberations on the NA-75 by-election saga. Presiding over a five-member ECP bench here, he said that if the elections had gone well, the result would be released; but if it was not so, there could a re-polling.
The ECP discussed the events which unfolded during polling and after the process was completed, and results started pouring in from NA-75 constituency, and 20 presiding officers went missing.
The district returning officer concerned shared details of the entire episode in a report, and told the forum that in all there were 360 polling stations in the constituency and the results of 305 polling stations were received by 2am, and 337 polling stations had been recorded by 3:30am.
However, he added, the results of 23 polling stations were delayed: the presiding officers were inaccessible, and only one mobile phone was receiving calls.
He said that the polling stations were 30-40 kms away. The results of three polling stations were available, but those could not be registered because there was a raging crowd outside the offices. He added that they received the rest of the results on WhatsApp.
“The candidates claimed that they had the results on WhatsApp. We asked them to provide us the results, and they did so. Data from 17 polling stations was received from the candidates, which was matched, as the election material was in our custody,” he explained.
He pointed out that there was no difference in the results of four polling stations; many forms provided by the complainant did not contain the fingerprints, while there were reports of firing and disturbances.
The returning officer further explained that the results of 10, out of 20 polling stations, were received from 4:30am to 6:30am and there was no difference in the results of four out of 20 polling stations, and noted that the results of the presiding officers of those polling stations and the results of the polling agents were the same.
He said one PTI and one PML-N worker was killed in the firing outside the polling station. After the firing, the voter turnout was slightly reduced.
The RO report said the presiding officers told the returning officer that it was foggy weather, or their vehicles broke down and therefore they could not reach the district returning officer’s office. “It takes two-and-a-half hours in clear weather to cover the distance,” the ECP was informed.
He said that Usman Dar also stated that was not an election, but a war and it was not just a matter of 20 polling stations. An atmosphere of terror had been created in the entire constituency. He added it was a deliberate operation and the presiding officers, who went missing, were detained.
The counsel for the Election Commission stressed re-election in the entire constituency. He told the commission that the PTI activists had been resorting to firing in the presence of the PTI candidate, Ali Asjad Malhi.
The CEC said that he had seen in a video clip that motorcyclists were firing shots. Has anyone been arrested?
The RO told the bench: “We had called the presiding officers for a statement, and all of them did not record their statements. Seven or eight presiding officers gave us their written statements,” he added.
At one point, the CEC asked whether the presiding officers were accompanied by the policemen, and the returning officer contacted them through wireless.
The returning officer said that he had asked the DSP Daska for it, but no contact was made over wireless with them.
CEC Sikandar Sultan said, “When you contacted us on the election night, you were very nervous. You said that the police and the administration were not cooperating.”
To this, the returning officer said that the management had cooperated, but the crowd was very large outside the offices; a large number of workers from both the parties were present outside the RO offices, he said.
The PML-N lawyer played a video of the disorder on the polling day. He said there was a difference between the RO statements on the election day and today (Tuesday). He said that there was an atmosphere of terror during the polling process in the constituency and firing was going on in the entire constituency throughout the day.
He said that 20 presiding officers suddenly disappeared and miraculously returned at 5:30am. He added that re-election should not be held only in 20 polling stations, but in the entire constituency.
The counsel pointed out that majority of the Form 45 given to them did not have thumbprints. PML-N candidate Nosheen Iftikhar claimed before the Election Commission that the DSP Daska had threatened to kill her on the polling day.
Later, the PTI lawyer asked the ECP for time to submit the documents, and gave him time till Thursday to submit the record and evidence. The ECP later adjourned the hearing till Thursday.
Meanwhile, PTI candidate Ali Asjad Malhi told the media outside the Election Commission “we are ready for re-election at 20 polling stations, but the PML-N has demanded re-election in the entire constituency”.
He said the police have criminal record of those whose release Maryam Nawaz was demanding. Federal Minister for Science and Technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said that the prime minister had asked for withdrawing the voting applications in 20 constituencies. He said the PM wanted to make the elections transparent.
“In view of this principle, the PML-N has objected to 20 polling stations. We also agree to this, but now they have changed their statement and demanded elections in the entire constituency. We have to bring about electoral reforms so that such incidents do not happen in future. But if we introduce amendments to the law, the opposition runs away,” he added.
Separately, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Shibli Faraz said Prime Minister Imran Khan had accepted the challenge of PML-N for re-polling at 20 polling stations in NA-75, Daska. However, he added the decision of re-polling would be taken by the ECP, which would be accepted by them and added Prime Minister Imran Khan always accepted challenges. Talking to the media outside the ECP, he pointed out that it was the PTI that had proposed electronic voting and asked why was there double standards of opposition on the question of transparency of elections and the option of open voting in the Senate polls.
He alleged that PML-N had established the tradition of buying and selling politics in the country on the basis of rigging and today it had found its way because they considered it their birthright that whatever election they win was right and whatever they lose that was wrong.
The minister claimed that PTI always did everything in a transparent manner but these people told lies. They also lied in the past about Calibri font and that she (Maryam) had no property in London what to talk having even in Pakistan.
“Their entire politics was based on fraud and forgery while Rana Sanaullah and Javed Latif have experience of disturbing the peace, these people were present in the by-election of Daska, they destroyed the entire election process while two lives were also lost. The relatives of those killed in Daska are demanding that they be brought to justice,” he noted.
He claimed that the PML-N vote bank in Punjab was going down and the PTI’s was going up. Also, former prime minister and PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi Tuesday accused the PTI government of involvement in election theft, and said everyone including lawmakers were sick of the ruling party.
Talking to the media outside the accountability court after appearing in the LNG case, he said bye-elections in NA-75 were stolen by the government, as the ECP itself said that elections were rigged. Abbasi said now the government was trying to hide its face after its rigging plan was exposed. He demanded that hearing in the ECP should be held publicly.
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