The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday released its findings on the controversy surrounding the results of a by-election in the NA-75 constituency, Daska, earlier this year.
According to the ECP report, election officials, police and the local administration failed to play their “designated role in the requisite manner and were found [to be] puppets in the hands of their unlawful masters” during the by-election in February this year.
The by-election was marred by violence, rigging and disappearance of over 20 presiding officers (POs). Subsequently, a fact-finding inquiry was launched to probe the irregularities.
The ECP had withheld the results of the February 19 by-poll and ordered re-election in the entire constituency after suspicion that results may have been falsified. The order was later upheld by the Supreme Court.
A by-poll was held in the constituency in April, with PML-N’s Syeda Nosheen Iftikhar winning the contest by securing 110,075 votes against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Ali Asjad Malhi, who had bagged 93,433.
According to the inquiry report, it seemed that “a constant observatory force drove or goaded” presiding officers, who failed to perform their duties during the by-poll.
The report — submitted by Punjab Joint Election Commissioner Saeed Gul to the Election Commission of Pakistan secretary — said the statement given by the 20 POs who were “forcefully taken to some unknown places invoked the point that … facts were being concealed by the POs”.
It noted that while the said POs blamed police for the irregularities reported during the by-poll, “their statements can never justify their negligence and maladministration”.
“In fact, their manipulated replies in the investigation of [them] being taken to unknown places and any interaction or forceful approach by someone further aired the suspicion that they were vindicated or backed up by someone,” the report says.
It further stated that senior assistant presiding officers (SAPOs) also supported this suspicion.
“Statement of SAPOs exposed that one PO willingly took the tamper evident bag with him in a shopping bag.”
The report stated: “Circumstantial evidence, written statements of some POs, SAPOs, most of the drivers and very few of the police personnel and CDR data from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority clearly prove that aforesaid POs, under some planned scheme, left their respective polling stations in private vehicles and reached Sialkot by staying first at Qila Kalar Wala Police Station/ Satra Police Station, office of the DSP, Pasrur and Mundeke etc. around after nearly 08:30pm.”
“They remained at some unknown building situated at Shahabpura/Ugoke Road near Zohra Hospital [in Sialkot] for more than seven hours and after that they were transported in the police security to [the] office of the RO at Jaisarwala,” it said. “Before reaching their destination, all the POs were shifted in police vans from a Toyota Hiace.”
It was also noted in the inquiry report that very few POs had managed to send the results of their respective polling stations through WhatsApp or submit original results.
Moreover, the inquiry found that Daska Deputy Education Officer Farkhanda Yasmeen had held a meeting with POs at her house, where the latter were instructed to “favour the government in the said by-election, allow the voters to cast their votes on copies of NIC (national identity card), act upon the guidelines received from [her] during polling and not to bother about the law and order situation if [it] turned untoward”.
The inquiry also revealed Sialkot Colleges Deputy Director Muhammad Iqbal Kaloya’s involvement in meetings held at the Daska assistant commissioner’s house for “manipulating the election process.”
The meetings were also attended by former special assistant to the Punjab chief minister Firdous Ashiq Firdous Ashiq Awan, among others, the report said, adding that Kolaya separately called POs to the office of Government Degree College for Boys, Daska’s principal. There, Kolaya instructed POs to slow down the voting process and not to interfere in the matters of police and the district administration.
“These disclosed facts convincingly take us to the point that [the] mishap in the by-election not just involves the negligence or maladministration of the POs. It was a preplanned scam that could not be possible without the reinforcement from their controlling departments while they also paved the path for other persons’ involvement in this wicked game,” the report said.
The inquiry also found that 17 POs had requested an exemption from by-election duties.
When the requests were scrutinised, “it was surprisingly revealed that handwriting on all TCS (Tranzum Courier Service) envelopes [containing the requests] was same that created further doubts”.
Later, TCS confirmed that the requests were sent on the same day from three different TCS centres in Sialkot, which meant “that those requests were managed by someone sitting in Sialkot who deliberately acted to hamper the by-election process and managed to induct his/their own blue-eyed ones”, the report said.
“In light of the afore-described facts, it can be conclusively determined that the activities of POs were suspicious, they became puppets in the hands of their controlling authority and even the replies submitted by them in response to the allegations of this maligned act were completely stereotyped and deceptive,” it concluded. “Hence, the role of presiding officers carries an obvious proportion in the whole conspiracy that [made] the by-election a dead duck.”