ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday accepted the request of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Miftah Ismail for a recount in the NA-249 (Karachi West-II) constituency where a by-election was held last week.
Last week, the commission had withheld the results on Ismail’s request for a recount, fixing the hearing in the petition for May 4.
“The margin of victory is less than five per cent of the total votes polled in the constituency or 10,000 votes whichever is less in accordance with the provisions of Section 95 (5) of the (Elections) Act, the Commission is satisfied that prima facie case exists for intervention, and therefore stay the consolidation process,” its order read.
The PML-N had also requested the ECP to conduct a forensic audit of the votes cast in the constituency.
In his letter, Ismail had also claimed that presiding officers from 34 polling stations did not send the results through WhatsApp. He had further claimed that the party “did not receive results from more than 30 polling stations”.
He had also claimed that many copies of Form 45 were not signed and that the counting of votes on these forms given to the party is different from the forms issued by the returning officer (RO), which were not provided to them.
During the proceedings on Tuesday, Ismail’s counsel Salman Akram Raja presented Form 45 to the commission and said that under the law, a signed Form 45 must be given to every polling agent.
“At 167 polling stations, Form 45 was not signed by any polling agent. Not a single Form 46 has been issued to us and none of them were signed. Something happened with Form 45 and Form 46 after polling ended,” he said.
He said that the issue of Form 46 was problematic and should be investigated as no presiding officer had issued it at any polling station, except one. The procedure was not followed as per the law and we were officially told a difference of 683 votes, he added.
Raja further said that the matter of Form 45 and 46 shows interference and demanded a recount in the whole constituency. “This matter should be fully investigated as the whole process has become suspicious.”
On the other hand, PPP counsel Latif Khosa argued that no complaint was lodged with the returning officer (RO) or the commission during or after the polling and the RO is not bound to accept the recount request.
“They didn’t provide evidence and just said that there are doubts,” he said. He further said this application is absolutely “unjustified.”
Later, when the arguments of both parties were concluded, the commission reserved its decision before announcing it hours later.
According to provisional results, Abdul Qadir Khan Mandokhail of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had secured 16,156 votes to win the election while Ismail came in second with 15,473 votes, followed by now-prescribed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) which secured 11,125 votes.
Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) chief Mustafa Kamal came fourth with 9,227 votes, followed by Amjad Afridi of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) with 8,922 votes.
The NA seat was created in 2018 by amalgamating neighbourhoods that previously fell in two National Assembly constituencies — NA-239 and NA-240 — during three general elections between 2002 and 2013.
The constituency, with 339,591 registered voters, has emerged to be a highly contested seat with candidates belonging to almost every major political party fighting for it.
It had fallen vacant after Faisal Vawda, who had won it on a PTI ticket, resigned from his seat to run for the Senate.
Later in the day, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif welcomed the ECP’s decision and said the narrow difference in votes necessitated this in the interest of transparency. He added that credibility of vote is a sure foundation of democracy.
Meanwhile, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said on Tuesday that ECP’s order to hold recounting in NA-249 constituency will lead to scrutiny of many seats that had narrow winning margins.
“PPP welcomes new precedent set by allowing constituency wide recount without specific polling stations complaints. Many seats from 2018 fall within 5 percent threshold & candidates have not been given this chance,” he wrote in a tweet from his official handle.