ISLAMABAD: The NA-75 Sialkot-IV by-election held in Daska on February 19 was not held in a fair, free, and transparent manner, an inquiry report issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan has determined.
The investigation report was prepared by the Joint Provincial Election Commissioner Saeed Gul.
According to the report, the election officials and other government functionaries “did not play their designated role in a requisite manner [and] they were found puppets in the hands of their unlawful masters”.
Firdous Ashiq Awan, who at the time of the by-poll was the special assistant to the chief minister Punjab on information, is named as being present in a meeting which was held to “manipulate the election process”.
Troublingly, on the day of the election, on February 19, 20 Presiding Officers (POs), who are in charge of collecting election results from their respective polling stations and sending it to the Election Commission, went missing.
According to Geo News report, the 20 officers were taken to an undisclosed and secret location within Sialkot and kept detained for seven hours.
Here is how some of the presiding officers have explained their disappearances to the investigating officials:
Umer Farooq Dogar, presiding officer
On that night, Dogar said that he could not WhatsApp Form-45 to the Returning Officer (RO) as his mobile phone had shut down due to low battery.
He further added that the police took him to a place he was unaware of and it took him nine hours to reach the local election office because the police told him they will escort him when all the other police vehicles arrive.
Saba Maryam, presiding officer
As the polling closed, Maryam said a policeman told her to hand over her mobile phone. He then grabbed the polling bag lying on her right side. When she asked where they wanted to take her, one of them said: “We do not know, a car is parked outside, sit in it as these are the orders from high ups.”
Later at an unknown location, 600 ballot papers were stamped by two people and fake signatures were added. The policeman also gave her a word-to-word dictation for Forms-45 and 46 and then put his signature and thumb impression on those forms.
Maryam explained that even today she is constantly under pressure and officials, including Mr Qamar-uz-Zaman, the Deputy District Education Officer, Daska also visited her home.
“Their very demand was to develop a monotonous reason blaming fog for being late after the poll and low-battery of the mobile for not sending the result through WhatsApp,” she told the probe committee.
Atif Shaheen, presiding officer
Shaheen blamed slow internet for not being able to send the results electronically. Explaining the reason for arriving at the election office seven hours late, he claimed that he had adopted a longer route to avoid the mob.
Shah Jehan, presiding officer
Jehan also said that poor signals on his cell phone prevented him from forwarding the result from his polling station. However later, in a confession statement submitted to the inquiry committee, he admitted that he was not allowed to send the result through WhatsApp as the police took his phone. He was then taken to the DSP Pasur’s office, and then to a factory where his polling bag was snatched.
In his statement, he added that at the factory he, and other POs with him, were asked to sign an “already prepared bogus results and were threatened to face the bitter consequences if they had denied.”
Earlier, he said he had not spoken the truth because he and other officers were threatened and warned that they would lose their jobs.
Shahid Imran, presiding officer
Imran also put the blame squarely on the poor network. The police, he added, made him sit in a private vehicle. When he asked them to return his mobile, they replied, “There is no need”.
Later in his confession statement, he said, he too was threatened and since he is poor so he could not afford to lose his job.
Salman Khalid, presiding officer
Khalid said his mobile was switched off due to battery problems. As for why he got late reaching the election office, he claimed that his car had engine problems and the tyre also had to be changed.
Waris Mehmood, presiding officer
Mehmood too said that his phone was taken away, adding that the police handed him “a fake result” and told him to deposit it with the RO office.
Nasir Mehmood Ahmad, presiding officer
Ahmad blamed “extreme fog” and blocked traffic routes for the delay in reaching the office with the result. However, as per the report, he could not explain how his polling station had a 86.5% turn out and why 155 votes were rejected.
Rizwan Butt, presiding officer
Butt had the most startling reason for being missing for several hours. He said that between 9:30 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., he remained sitting in the car, for six-and-a-half hours.