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February 4, 2016

PTI disallowed to have access to ballot papers in NA-122

Islamabad

February 4, 2016

Islamabad

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Aleem Khan has not been allowed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) access to ballot papers cast in the by-election to NA-122 Lahore or the Nadra data but has been permitted inspection of the record of transfer of votes and registration of new electorates during a specific period.

Meanwhile, it is perhaps the first time that the ECP has given this permission under the Right to Information (RIT) article of the Constitution that Aleem Khan had invoked in his plea.

The article says every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.

In the meantime, the ECP order categorically noted that some affidavits submitted by Aleem Khan, which alleged transfers of certain votes without the written requests or willingness of the concerned voters were “absolutely false” but it stopped short of imposing any punishment on him. But it stated that it “reserves its authority/right to proceed in accordance with law after final decision” by the election tribunal concerned.

However, a Lahore tribunal had already turned down Aleem Khan’s petition before the ECP decision was handed down. On January 26, the tribunal dismissed his plea declaring it non-maintainable. He had alleged that 30,000 votes were shifted from NA-122 constituency while Nadra had the record of only 7,000 votes. He had charged that the by-election was rigged and that the public mandate was stolen. The complainant has announced to challenge the tribunal’s decision in the Supreme Court.

The ECP observation regarding some affidavits being “absolutely false” is very serious, which entails severe penalty under the law. Not only the one who produced such sworn statements can be proceeded against but those who gave them on oath can also be prosecuted for lying.

As per the ECP order, Aleem Khan has to approach the Lahore District Registration Officer (DRO), who works under the Punjab election commissioner, to get the record. The Punjab election commission is part of the ECP.

Speaker Ayaz Sadiq figures nowhere in the ECP verdict although Aleem Khan has repeatedly accused him of rigging NA-122 by-election. All matters relating to inclusion, exclusion and additions in the electoral rolls and any kind of changes made in them fall in the ECP domain and no contesting candidate has anything to do with them.

Aleem Khan is entitled to have copies of record relating to fresh inclusion of voters in the electoral rolls of 2015; obtain copies of numerous persons registered on a specific address after specifying the census blocks and the specific persons so registered; to get the copes of record of inclusion, exclusion and deletions of voters in the lists of 2015 compared with the rolls of 2013 after spelling out such persons as well as incidents; obtain copies of the supplementary list published in July 2015, which includes the record justifying the addition/deletion/inclusion of alleged 4,542 votes; and get the copies of additions, if any, made in the rolls after the announcement of schedule for by-election to NA-122.

The ECP order stated that Aleem can get from the DRO copies of the record/documents under Section 45 of the Representation of People Act (RPA) 1976. This clause says that documents retained by the ECP under section 44 of the RPA, except the ballot papers, shall be open to public inspection at such time and subject to such conditions as may be prescribed, and the ECP shall, upon an application made in this behalf and on payment of such fee and subject to such conditions as may be prescribed, furnish copies of, or extracts from, those documents.

According to section 44, the Returning Officer (RO) shall forward to the ECP the packets containing the ballot papers each of which shall be sealed with the seal of the Presiding Officer, or, if opened by the RO, with the seal of the RO; the packets containing the counterfoils of issued ballot papers; the packets containing the marked copies of the electoral rolls; the packets containing the ballot paper account; the packets containing the tendered ballot papers, the challenged ballot papers, the tendered votes list and the challenged votes list; and such other papers as the ECP may direct.

The RO shall endorse in each packet the description of its contents, the date of the election to which the contents relate and the name and number of the constituency for which the election was held. The ECP shall retain the documents contained in the packets for a period of one year from the date of their receipt and thereafter shall, unless otherwise directed by a tribunal, cause them to be destroyed.

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