Court can’t allow people deprived of right: SC

Lawyers for the rival candidates in the NA-75 by-poll presented their arguments in a case against the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) order for re-election in the constituency during a hearing in the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

A three-member bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, heard the case. The judge said that people are affected by the fight between two bigwigs, but how could the court allow that the masses were deprived of their basic rights.

The court first heard Shahzad Shaukat, the counsel for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insad (PTI) candidate Asjad Malhi. Presenting his arguments against the re-election order, Shaukat stressed that the law and order situation alone could not be the reason for re-polling.

Justice Bandial said that the by-election was declared null and void on the basis of illegal steps taken in the constituency, adding that the court would review that matter as the ECP has linked the low turnout to violent incidents on the polling day.

Sitting on the bench, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah remarked that the ECP decision did not mention the deployment of Rangers. Shaukat replied that Rangers were present at the time of the clash at four polling stations.

Also read: Supreme Court rejects PTI plea on NA-75 re-poll

The PTI lawyer said that the report of the inspector general of police (IGP) had said that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) workers had created the law and order problem. Justice Shah said that according to the report, unknown persons opened fire.

The PTI candidate’s lawyer then questioned how could there be re-election in the entire constituency after a clash at a few polling stations. Justice Bandial remarked that it would be seen what was the reason for the re-polling in the entire constituency.

In the meanwhile, Salman Akram Raja, the lawyer for the PML-N candidate Nausheen Iftikhar, joined the proceedings via a video link from the apex court’s Lahore Registry. Raja is currently suffering from coronavirus infection, yet he arrived in the courtroom.

Continuing his arguments, Shehzad Shaukat said that the Punjab administration should have been informed by the ECP before giving its decision. He also told the court that PML-N workers at polling stations also created law and order problem.

Raja, while initiating his arguments, said that this election should be seen in the category of fraud. He pointed out that 20 presiding officers went missing. Justice Shah asked whether the presiding officers had police security. Raja replied that they went missing along with the security personnel.

Also sitting on the bench, Justice Muneeb Akhtar asked Raja that his client first demanded re-polling in 23 polling stations and then in the entire constituency. He further asked about the request for re-polling in the entire constituency.

Raja took the position that the request for re-polling was submitted to the ECP. Justice Akhtar said that the request for re-polling was made on March 23. He also asked whether the PML-N candidate was aware of the incidents of firing at polling stations.

Raja said that everything was done in the by-election under a conspiracy. The administration obstructed the conduct of transparent elections. He pointed out that a police officer, Zulfiqar Virk, was given security responsibilities in violation of the ECP directive.

Raja said that the PML-N candidate had protested against the administration’s behaviour on the election day but it was not possible to report all irregularities to the ECP as the lawyer could not be present on the spot during the course of voting and file one petition after another.

Justice Bandial said that the ECP relied on vital evidence and the court must not be given the impression that it doubted the ECP. Raja said that the ECP took up the matter in a broader context during its proceedings.

Justice Bandial maintained that there was no precedent of disappearance of presiding officers during elections. However, he added that the Punjab government could not be accused of conspiracy. He advised that the parties to focus on the questions raised by the court.

Raja argued that the polling stations where the presiding officers went missing had reported a turnout of 80%. The court directed the PML N counsel to take time and reappear at the next hearing on Thursday (today).

During Wednesday’s hearing, additional advocate general Punjab said that the Punjab government was not a party to the case even though serious allegations had been levelled against it.

(This story has been published from The Express Tribune feed, without modifications to the text)