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ISLAMABAD: Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP’s) reluctance to allow political parties access to tally the record while recounting votes in National Assembly’s constituency NA-249 has further comprised the credibility of by-poll held on April 29.

As per electoral practices, returning officer is empowered to allow poll contestants during recounting of votes in any constituency to tally the related record, a retired top ECP official told Business Recorder.

“Electoral staff cannot hand over voting record to any candidate or his/her polling agent but candidates or their polling agents have the right to be shown the record and examine or tally it without getting hold of anything related to polling — ballot papers, forms used in the election or any other material,” the official said, requesting not to be named.

“Forms used in voting carry crucial details including total numbers of votes registered in any constituency, number of male and female voters, total number of votes cast, percentage of voters’ turnout, total number of polling stations and all other relevant details related to voters, candidates and elections. These forms cannot be given to any candidate but he/she can see them,” former ECP official said.

Speaking to Business Recorder, senior Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) leader Rana Sanaullah said PML-N did not demand to be handed over voting record of NA-249 during vote recount that was held in Karachi earlier on Thursday.

“We simply demanded to be allowed to tally Form 45 with Form 46, signatures of presiding staff and counterfoils. This is a very valid demand. But returning officer of NA-249 plainly refused to show us these forms. This is the reason why all the major political parties except PPP boycotted the vote recount,” he said.

The ECP, till the filing of this report Friday evening, did not share its official version on the matter.

A senior ECP official, requesting anonymity, said the commission would consider addressing the concerns of political parties and hold a vote recount again, if approached by any aggrieved party.

“I don’t think re-polling would be a feasible option but vote recount can be held once again,” the source said.

The official admitted that ECP’s decision to hold re-polling in Daska by-poll set a ‘wrong precedent’ and now political parties are demanding re-polling after almost every by-election alleging rigging. “There were only a few polling stations where re-polling was required in Daska. Instead, ECP ordered re-polling in the entire constituency. This has set a wrong precedent and political parties/candidates are now taking advantage of it,” the official said.

Amjad Afridi from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), who contested Karachi by-poll, said candidates are not ready to trust ECP’s vote recount. “We believe the record was tampered to favour PPP— and that’s why, at the vote recount, the bag carrying votes was not sealed. The votes’ bag was required to be de-sealed in the presence of the candidates. Now there is no credibility in the vote recount,” he said.

A PTI senator, requesting anonymity, told Business Recorder that although PTI demanded re-polling in NA-249 but neither PTI nor any other party was willing to go into re-election. “PML-N may be interested in re-polling at a few polling stations—those where it is expecting better results— but nobody wants re-polling in the entire NA-249. The candidates have already spent millions of rupees in their election campaigns. They don’t want to do it again. The demands from political parties for re-polling are aimed at getting political mileage” the senator said.

“Only feasible option for ECP is to address the concerns of political parties and recount votes once again,” the senator said.

Last week, ECP issued unofficial poll results of NA-249 on Form 47. According to these results, Abdul Qadir Mandokhel from Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) bagged 16,156 votes followed by PML-N’s Miftah Ismail with 15,473 votes, trailing Mandokhel with a thin margin of only 683 votes. Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP’s) Nazeer Ahmed took 11,125 votes. Mustafa Kamal of Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) secured 9,227 votes followed by PTI’s Amjad Afridi who ended up with 8,922 votes. Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s (MQM-P’s) Hafiz Mursaleen got 7,511 votes.

ECP, till filing of this report, did not issue the results of the vote recount held Thursday.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021