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EDITORIAL: Commendably for it, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has effectively dealt with some serious questions surrounding the NA-75 by-election in Daska, which was marred by violent clashes between the workers of the PTI and PML-N - two persons were shot to death — and the mysterious 7-hour-long disappearance of 20 presiding officers, creating suspicions about vote’s sanctity. The disappeared officers later claimed that they had lost their way due to fog, which would be laughable had it not involved the sanctity of vote. Acting with a sense of responsibility, however, the Returning Officer had withheld the election result – something appreciated not only by the opposition candidate and her party but also impartial observers. In the ensuing argumentation the PTI had insisted on calling re-polling only in the 20 controversial stations, but finding the objections raised by the PML-N in its petition the ECP has declared void the entire constituency’s result, ordering fresh polling on March 18.

Even though the ruling PTI had initially said it would accept whatever may be the ECP’s decision, it has now chosen to challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court, contending that in their reports the ECP officers had not mentioned irregularities except in 20 to 23 polling stations. The party may have the right to mount a legal challenge, but there are many issues raised by the ECP in its verdict that have no easy answers. The short order read out by the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja said that “the election in the subject constituency has not been conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in a transparent manner; incidents of murder, firing and injuries, bad law and order situation … created harassment for voters and other circumstances leading to make the process of results doubtful/unascertainable.” Even the PTI cannot quarrel with these facts. There is enough evidence floating around that shows both sides used firearms, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. On top of that, 20 polling officers disappeared along with the results of their respective polling stations. And when on receiving information about the ‘missing’ staff the CEC tried to contact the concerned administration officials he, too, found them missing.

It is good to see the ECP assert its authority and hold the erring government officials to account. The Punjab Chief Secretary and Inspector General of Police have been asked to appear before it in person on March 4 to “explain negligence” in the performance of their duties. It has ordered the establishment division to suspend Sialkot deputy commissioner (DC), district police officer (DPO) and Daska assistant commissioner from service. It has also ordered the government to transfer the Gujranwala commissioner and regional police officer (RPO), beside suspending two deputy superintendents of police. Although ECP is said to have not given a fair chance of hearing to the suspended or transferred officials, its actions nevertheless bring credibility to the electoral body. They are demonstrative of a resolve to set a new standard, very different from the previous record, for which the ECP deserves to be thanked by political parties as well as the voters.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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