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May 4, 2021

As principal competitors agree: ECP unlikely to be averse to recount in NA-249

National

May 4, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is not likely to be reluctant to order a partial or full recount of votes in the April 29 by-election to the NA-249 Karachi constituency in view of the public assertions of the two main contestants.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) candidate Miftah Ismail, who lost to Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) representative Qadir Mandokhel by a margin of 683 votes, has approached the chief election commissioner (CEC) seeking a vote recount. The ECP takes up the plea on Tuesday.

The PPP had second thoughts about its initial opposition to the recount and subsequently “welcomed” Miftah Ismail’s demand. “Making such a request is the PMLN’s right and the PPP welcomes it as it wants to see the ECP as a strong institution. Under the rules, a recount can be conducted in a constituency where the winning margin is less than 5pc of total votes polled,” PPP leader Farhatullah Babar said.

The ECP will not have any difficulty in ordering a recount if the PPP’s lawyers, in their arguments before it, stick to their leaders’ public declarations that they have no objection to this process. In such an eventuality, the litigation may end at the ECP and may not be taken to the high court by any principal contender.

In his application to the CEC, Miftah Ismail said that given that he has not received the results from more than 30 polling stations, given that he has serious reservations about the conduct of some presiding officers (POs), including those who got Form 45 signed before noon and certainly before 5pm, and given the missing signatures on many forms, he is now requesting an order for a full recount under Section 95(6) [of the Elections Act, 2017] as the returning officer (RO) is inexplicably not following the law under Section 95(5) and ordering a full recount given the narrow margin.

He wrote that his vote totals were different from those in Forms 45 and 47 given by the RO, who, he said, by rejecting his applications, has exhibited clear and unwarranted bias.

Section(5)(6) says: “Before commencement of the consolidation proceedings, the RO will recount the ballot papers of one or more polling stations if a request or challenge in writing is made by a contesting candidate or his election agent and the margin of victory is less than 5pc of the total votes polled in the constituency or 10,000 votes, whichever is less, or the RO considers such request as not unreasonable: Provided that the recount will be made by the RO only once. The ECP may, before conclusion of the consolidation proceedings, for reasons to be recorded, direct the RO to recount the ballot papers of one or more polling stations.” In the instant case, the ECP intervened and stopped the RO to release the results.

As the ECP hears the plea, the PMLN nominee has urged the CEC to order placing the election material, including ballot papers, under the supervision of the army or Rangers. “Most of the polling staff/presiding officers are from the Sindh government, who favour the ruling party in an illegal manner as alleged by almost every contesting candidate/parties.

We would like to record our serious apprehension as to the safe custody/security of the ballot papers and other materials lying in the custody of Sindh Police, which again is a provincial department and there is strong likelihood that the ballot papers, counterfoils of the issued ballot papers, marked copies of the electoral rolls, ballot paper accounts etc may be tampered to frustrate the whole electoral process.”

However, under the Elections Act, it is the responsibility of the RO to ensure that no poll material relating to the NA-249 by-election is damaged, destroyed or tampered with otherwise he would have to face the music. In this connection, the ECP enjoys massive powers.

Section 9 says: If, from facts apparent on the face of the record and after such enquiry as it may deem necessary, the ECP is satisfied that by reason of grave illegalities or such violations of the Elections Act or the Rules as have materially affected the result of the poll at one or more polling stations or in the whole constituency including implementation of an agreement restraining women from casting their votes, it will make a declaration accordingly and call upon the voters in the concerned polling station or stations or in the whole constituency as the case may be, to recast their votes in the manner provided for by-elections.”