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ISLAMABAD: Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Tuesday said it will decide whether to order re-poll in National Assembly's constituency NA-75 Daska (Sialkot) or to announce the by-election result while Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), in apparent deviation from its previous stance, demanded re-polling in the said constituency.

In addition, Returning Officer for NA-75, Athar Abbasi, who is also District Election Commissioner Narowal, has denied that any result related to the by-election was changed.

A five-member ECP bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and comprising of all the four ECP Members; Justice Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi (Punjab), Shah Muhammad Jatoi (Sindh), Justice (r) Irshad Qaiser (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Nisar Ahmed Durrani (Balochistan) heard the petition moved by Nosheen Iftikhar from PML-N, a by-poll candidate for NA-75.

At the hearing, Advocate Salman Akram Raja, Nosheen's counsel, termed ECP press release regarding NA-75 by-poll 'a historic document.' "This historic document has highlighted unprecedented rigging in the by-poll under the patronage of highest level from the government. This is the first election in the history of Pakistan in which 20 ROs, IGP (Inspector General of Police) and Chief Secretary Punjab-all vanished and then all reappeared on the scene together," he said while requesting the ECP to order re-poll in NA-75.

Abbasi, the RO, presented his report regarding by-election. He denied that any result was changed. "All the results were compared to earlier results that were shared through WhatsApp and they were same. Some results came between 3 am-3:30 am- some results came between 6 am to 7 am," he said.

The RO said the results of 337 polling stations had arrived by 3:37 am on February 20 while the results of 20 polling stations were awaited as contact could not be established with the relevant presiding officers. "Weather was extremely bad that night. There was heavy fog so there were some issues. But there is no question of foul play. Every presiding officer was provided with policemen and vehicles so there was no chance that any presiding officer could be alone," he said regarding allegation that presiding officers were 'kidnapped'.

"When you contacted (ECP) you sounded terrified-you said 'our lives are in danger.......' why was that? Who was threatening you? Wasn't district administrative machinery cooperating with you?" the CEC asked the RO.

"There were highly charged supporters of both the political parties; PTI and PML-N, they were trying to climb the walls and enter the polling stations' premises. That scared us," the RO replied.

Member ECP (Punjab) Altaf Qureshi asked the RO whether the location of presiding officers was determined using their mobile phones' record. The RO replied that the DPO's mobile phone was switched off and he could not be contacted on the night falling between February 19-20.

Advocate Ali Bukhari, the counsel for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidate Ali Asjad Malhi strongly criticised PML-N for taking a 'U-turn' on its by-poll stance. "First, they (PML-N) were claiming victory by a margin of 3,000 votes. Then they saw rigging in 23 polling station results. Till yesterday, they were shouting, making hue and cry-asking ECP to announce by-poll result. And today, they want re-election. Their dubious stance clearly shows the fear that they have lost the election despite exhausting every option to rig the election by using coercive tactics, vandalism and all that," he said.

Malhi's counsel sought time till next week to present verified documents regarding Form 45. "We don't want to present unverified documents like PML-N did," he said.

The CEC rejected this demand and directed him to present all the record by today (Wednesday). "There is no fog now. You can simply visit Daska and get the record," Qureshi, the ECP Member said. The ECP directed that RO report regarding by-poll be shared with the stakeholders in the case. The case is adjourned till Thursday.

Later, speaking to media outside ECP, Federal Information Minister Shibli Faraz said the ECP has the 'full and final' authority on by-election held in NA-75 Daska.

"The PML-N disturbed law and order in the (Daska) by-election. Prime Minister Imran Khan has positively responded to PML-N's application for re-polling in 23 polling stations of NA-75. Imran Khan has always accepted challenges. He cannot be blackmailed," he said.

The federal government wants that electronic voting is introduced in the next general elections and open ballot in Senate polls.

"The promoters of corruption want Senate elections through secret vote," he said.

Federal Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry said ECP is not authorised to stop election results if all the results in any constituency are received. He said if PML-N has objection on election results in 23 polling stations than it should move application for re-polling in those polling stations.

PTI leaders Usman Dar, Faisal Javed Khan and Ali Asjad Malhi also spoke to media and took on PML-N. On the other hand, Marriyum Aurangzeb from PML-N strongly criticised PTI and accused its federal and Punjab governments of rigging in by-polls.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021