ISLAMABAD: Justice Umar Ata Bandial of the Supreme Court on Thursday wondered why the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) relied on police when it was receiving reports about building up of law and order situation before the polling day in NA-75 Daska constituency.
“Inefficiency in government services is the order of the day,” Justice Bandial regretted. He said there were limitation and capacity issues with the police which only knew either to shoot or hit and lacked capabilities to break up a procession or persuade protesters not to go any further.
Usually, the services of Rangers or Frontier Constabulary were utilised in general elections, Justice Bandial said and asked why the ECP did not consider other options instead of relying on the police, particularly at a time when the services of Rangers, according to the police reports, were available, when it was perturbed over the situation in the constituency and writing letters to the authorities and issuing notices on security lapses.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Bandial had taken up an appeal filed by PTI candidate Ali Asjad Malhi challenging the ECP’s Feb 25 decision to order re-election in NA-75 Daska.
Judge finds geo-fencing report irrelevant as it wasn’t before commission when it ordered re-election
On March 25, the Supreme Court had ordered the ECP to postpone the schedule for holding the by-poll on April 10 in the contentious constituency.
“There seems to be some sort of oversight on the part of the ECP,” Justice Bandial observed, adding that by going through the ECP reports it seemed that the commission was regretting not making enough arrangements to secure the election when it should have adopted other alternatives as the local administration was not responding.
The ECP had to establish that the irregularities and illegalities on the polling day were so grave and serious that it had to use its discretion to order re-election in the constituency, Justice Bandial emphasised.
ECP’s counsel Mian Abdul Rauf pleaded that it was not expected that massive irregularities would be committed during the polling. Rangers were on patrol and not deployed at certain polling stations, he said.
Justice Bandial said the bench was convinced that it was the duty of the ECP under the Constitution to ensure free and fair election.
Justice Sajjad Ali Shah observed that no one, not even people, took police seriously.
The counsel said the commission had decided to go for re-election in view of serious violations of provisions of the relevant law which had materially affected the election. Moreover, the situation aggravated on the polling day when a number of illegalities were committed which resulted in violation of several provisions of the election laws, he added.
When Justice Muneeb Akhtar wondered whether 20 presiding officers (POs), who went missing after polling, were required to personally hand over the election results to the returning officer (RO) or simply send the results to him, the ECP director general said the POs had been trained to bring the result to the RO office personally.
When Justice Bandial observed that the commission was trying to say that the cumulative effect of irregularities on the polling day was such that the entire election got affected, the ECP’s counsel said all provisions of the elections law were to be applied in letter and spirit and when it was not complied with, it affected the elections.
Justice Akhtar barred the counsel from relying on the geo-fencing report which showed that the 20 POs adopted a different and long route to reach the RO office after polling, saying the present case was an appeal in which the parties could not be allowed to bring new material on each hearing date.
He explained that the geo-fencing report was not before the ECP when it decided to order re-election in the entire constituency and, therefore, the document was irrelevant.
Earlier, Advocate Salman Akram Raja, representing the PML-N’s candidate, contended that when there was a perception that the people of a constituency had not been given a fair election, the ECP could interfere and take decisions, including annulment of the election process, to give a strong message for future deterrence.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2021