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ISLAMABAD: In a move that raises eyebrows, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) deferred the decision on a crucial petition moved by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) for an “unknown time period” regarding the recounting of votes in the Punjab Assembly’s constituency PP-7 Kahuta (Rawalpindi) where by-elections were held on Sunday.

“I don’t know when I will be able to take a decision on the matter,” Rai Sultan Bhatti, the Returning Officer for PP-7, is reported to have told the candidates who contested the by-election.

On Monday, the RO had directed the PTI candidate Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Shabbir Awan and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) candidate Raja Sagheer to appear in his office in tehsil Kahuta Tuesday morning in connection with the PTI’s recounting application. The PTI had moved a consolidation application (to include rejected votes in the recounting) before the RO for PP-7.

According to PTI leader Sadaqat Ali Abbasi, both the candidates as well as their legal aides reached the RO office on the given time on Tuesday.

The RO informed the candidates that he would take a decision on the PTI’s consolidation application by 2:30 pm, Abbasi told the media.

Later, the RO informed that the decision would be announced by 6pm, he added.

“Now, the RO is saying that he has no idea when he would be able to take a decision on this matter. This is very strange,” Abbasi said.

The RO was not available to the media for comments on the matter.

It merits recalling here that the PML-N’s Sagheer defeated the PTI’s Awan by a narrow margin of only 49 votes in the by-election in PP-7 located in tehsil Kahuta of district Rawalpindi.

Sagheer bagged 68,906 votes compared to Awan’s 68,857 votes. The election results issued by the ECP revealed that Awan was leading by 293 votes when the result of 265 out of 266 polling stations of PP-7 had arrived. But he lost by 49 votes when the final result of all 266 polling stations was issued.

Fingers were pointed at the ECP when its Result Management System (RMS) allegedly slowed down during the transmission of PP-7 results. The PTI alleged foul play in the by-poll and claimed that its candidate was leading by up to 4,000 votes at one point when the results were stopped for more than three hours.

The ECP denied this allegation saying there was no fault in RMS and that delay in the transmission of results was linked to the fact that polling stations in Kahuta were mainly located in far-flung hilly areas.

Sagheer had won as an independent candidate from PP-7 in 2018 general elections and later joined the PTI. He had bagged 44,286 votes followed by PML-N’s Raja Muhammad Ali who secured 42,382 votes, leaving behind Ghulam Murtaza Satti of PTI who managed to get 40,332 votes in 2018 general polls.

Sagheer was among the 25 members of the provincial assembly (MPAs) who were de-seated by the ECP under Article 63-A for voting in favour of Hamza Shehbaz in the election of chief minister Punjab. Resultantly, by-elections were held on 20 general seats of the 25 seats on July 17.

The former ruling party grabbed lion’s share in the by-polls by grabbing 15 seats, followed by N-League’s four seats and an independent candidate won a seat.

Meanwhile, the ECP, Tuesday, reserved verdict on a petition regarding alleged violence in PP-167 Lahore during by-polls. The petition, moved by PML-N’s Nazeer Chohan, requested the electoral body to stay the by-poll result till the case was decided. Chohan lost to PTI’s Shabbir Gujjar by more than 14,000 votes in the by-poll. Chohan received 40,511 against Gujjar’s 26,475 votes.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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