ISLAMABAD: The ruling PML-N emerged victorious on Thursday after PTI lost the legal battle on the veracity of 2013 polls in a crucial National Assembly constituency, NA-110, when the Supreme Court dismissed the latter’s petition against federal defence minister Khawaja Asif.
The detailed judgment is likely to be released in a few days, after which it will become clear if the petitions were dismissed merely on technical grounds or on merit.
SC dismisses PTI petition challenging Khawaja Asif’s election as MNA
In the short order, the apex court judges again highlighted inherent flaws in the country’s electoral system.
NA-110 was one of the four constituencies PTI chief Imran Khan had demanded to open for a vote audit immediately after the 2013 elections.
Litigation on two constituencies went in favour of PTI.
PTI secretary-general Jahangir Tareen won the by-polls from NA-154 Lodhran, defeating the PML-N backed independent candidate. In the by-elections for NA-122 in Lahore, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq was re-elected.
Electoral dispute on NA-125 from where incumbent minister for railways, Khawja Saad Rafique, was elected is yet to be concluded.
“For reasons to be recorded separately, both these appeals are dismissed,” the three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, stated in its short order.
More than three and a half years after the polls, Asif’s exoneration from charges of rigging came as a relief for the ruling party which is facing another important inquiry in connection with Panama Leaks.
“I am humbled … I thank the Almighty. The Supreme Court has endorsed the will of the people of Sialkot,” exulted defence minister in a Tweet immediately after the SC issued the short order. Similar statements were also made by other PML-N leaders.
PTI accepted the verdict with reservations.
“We accept the SC decision. This case showed many shortcomings of the system. Khawja Asif successfully destroyed important record in connivance with the government machinery,” PTI’s secretary information Naeemul Haq said.
“We cannot hold the returned candidate responsible for tampering the ballot record. The Election Commission must have kept the poll records safe. Since they do not have such a facility, it was stored in government (custody) which makes it vulnerable to tampering,” the Chief Justice remarked before concluding the case.
The judges were also critical of stakeholders who failed to reform the electoral system.
“We don’t see this happening in our lifetime. Status quo continues (unabated),” CJP remarked when Asif’s counsel contended that parliament was considering an electoral reforms package.
Petitioner Usman Dar claimed that his petition had been dismissed on technical grounds.
“I was not given a fair opportunity … to plead my case,” he told The Express Tribune. Once the detailed judgment is released, he said, he would decide whether or not to file a review petition.
Almost a year after PTI’s three month long sit-in in Islamabad, a three-judge inquiry commission in its 237-page report endorsed the overall polls but pointed out several flaws on part of the ECP. The commission in its report also suggested some recommendations.
The parliamentary committee formed in August 2014 to compile the electoral reforms package is yet to conclude its task, which was supposed to be completed within three months.
Khawaja Asif requests SC to decide election case soon
The vote audit mechanism adopted by the ECP after 2013 also failed to give satisfactory results. Many cases of alleged rigging are still pending with election tribunals. These tribunals were supposed to decide all complaints within four months.
NADRA’s thumb impression verification system also failed to provide concrete results.
NADRA verified thumb impressions of voters in NA-110.
In its forensic report, NADRA submitted before the SC in June this year that 147,698 voters were processed via Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) out of which 102,950 could not be verified because of poor quality of fingerprints on counterfoils.
“Unverified counterfoils do not mean these were bogus. It points out either the thumb prints were not properly made or the ink used was of poor quality,” an ECP official said.
Such weaknesses in the vote verification system gave benefit of doubt in many cases, he added.
CNIC numbers on counterfoils of 3,478 votes also did not match in the constituency. Asif had won NA-110 seat with 92,803 votes, while the PTI’s Usman Dar bagged 71,525 votes.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th, 2016.
Courtesy : Express Tribune