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ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Saturday said it suspected results of 20 polling stations had been falsified in the by-election for NA-75 (Daska) constituency as the PML-N alleged massive rigging.

In a statement issued here, the ECP said results of NA-75 were received with "unnecessary delay", adding that it tried to contact the presiding officers several times but with no success.

Earlier, the results for NA-75 by-polls were withheld on the PML-N's request, amid a controversy surrounding 23 presiding officers, who had allegedly "gone missing" late in the night.

According to police officials, the 23 polling officials had gotten stuck in far-flung areas of the constituency due to fog.

In a late-night development, police had retrieved the officers and brought them to the office of the district returning officer, where leaders of the PML-N and the PTI were also present.

However, the ECP statement noted that several attempts were made to contact the presiding officers, but no response was received from them.

The ECP said that the chief election commissioner tried to contact the Punjab IG and the relevant commissioner and deputy commissioner on receiving information from the district returning officer (DRO) and returning officer (RO) about the presiding officers who had "gone missing".

The election commissioner; however, received no response.

The Punjab chief secretary was contacted around 3am, after which, he gave assurances of tracing the "missing" presiding officers and polling bags for the NA-75 results, the ECP statement said.

Later, he, too, became unavailable and stopped responding.

The presiding officers eventually appeared with the polling bags by 6am.

The DRO and RO reported that the results of 20 polling stations in the NA-75 by-election are now suspected to have been rigged, so it is not possible to release the final result of the constituency without a full inquiry, the ECP said.

It added that the DRO will send a detailed report on the matter to the ECP.

The statement said the ECP had instructed the DRO and the RO to conduct a complete inquiry, and identify those responsible.

They have, meanwhile, been stopped from announcing the initial results for the by-election.

The ECP also directed the provincial election commissioner and the joint provincial election commissioner to reach the office of the DRO and RO, so that "we can reach the bottom of the matter and records can be completely protected".

"This matter looks like a weakness of the administration and law enforcement agencies," the ECP said.

According to the unofficial results, a PTI candidate emerged victorious in NA-45, while the PML-N candidates won the PP-51 and PK-63 seats.

Senior PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal had said the results of NA-75 polling stations were doubtful, and requested the ECP to withhold the results.

In an application to the chief election commissioner, he asked that the result for NA-75 be withheld till "investigation of 23 missing presiding officers abducted by administration and determination of authenticity of results submitted by them by PML-N candidate Nosheen Iftikhar."

Iqbal also demanded a forensic audit be conducted or re-polling be done in these polling stations.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021