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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court questioned the disappearance of the presiding officers (POs) as a valid ground to order re-polling in the entire constituency of NA-75 Daska.

A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, heard the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) candidate, Sajjad Ali Malhi’s appeal against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s order for re-polling in NA-75 Daska.

Advocate Mian Abdur Rauf, representing the ECP, submitted the geo-fencing report of the 20 presiding officers, who had gone missing soon after the polling.

Justice Muneeb asked why the ECP did not obtain a geo-fencing report before passing the order and said how the apex court in the appeal could examine it. He said now it had no legal value.

The ECP counsel told that it was mandatory that the presiding officers transported the election results in the vehicle provided by the ECP. He submitted that immediately after the polling time, 20 POs had gone missing.

He said they went out of the constituency, adding, according to the information provided to the ECP the POs went to Sialkot.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah said the ECP keeps cell numbers of the ECP vehicles’ drivers, the POs, and the police officers. He questioned whether the ECP staff contacted them on their cell numbers.

The counsel replied their cell numbers were switched off.

Upon that, Justice Sajjad noticed it is an important point.

Mian Rauf informed that the PTI candidate has accepted unrest on the polling day.

Justice Bandial said a few days before the polling the security situation was in the knowledge of the ECP in NA-75 then why it did not make foolproof security arrangements. He asked the counsel to show that whatever happened on the polling day was by design.

Mian Rauf said the district administration and the police did not cooperate with the ECP. He told that the Commission also issued notices to the candidates for violation of the code of conduct.

Earlier, Salman Akram Raja, appearing on behalf of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz contestant, Nosheen Iftikhar, argued that the ECP order was in accordance with the facts and the laws.

He said the turnout in the rural areas was 52 percent, while in urban areas, due to firing incidents, it was 35 percent. He said according to the ECP, hurdles were created in the way of smooth polling.

Justice Muneeb said the ECP did not mention those facts in its order. It has also not talked about conspiracy. The court, however, observed that the POs disappeared in the police squad.

He then asked the counsel to read para 15 of Waheeda Shah’s case, in order to show how that judgment is relevant in the instant matter.

He said the judgment says how important is the conduct of the election staff.

Salman Akram contended that the ECP is a constitutional body, and it investigated the matter before passing the order. He said that its decision could be used to stop such unruly incidents. He prayed before the bench to declare the ECP valid on these two points.

Justice Muneeb inquired from him that could he tell how many polling stations were under the area where Police Officer Virk was.

Salman replied eight presiding officers in his area had gone missing. He said total of 109 polling stations were affected by the firing and disturbance, adding, it was a large number, therefore, the ECP had to order re-polling in the entire constituency.

He said the district administration did not cooperate with the ECP, which benefited the ruling party candidate, adding, the disappearance of 20 presiding officers was a very serious issue.

Before concluding, Salman argued if the SC came to the conclusion that polling could not be held in the entire constituency, then it should be done at least in 109 polling stations.

The case was adjourned until today (Friday).

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021