Daska election manipulators should be punished before dusk
The Election Commission of Pakistan’s report on what happened on the day by-election was held on NA-75 (Daska) is sufficient to humiliate the PTI government, which, otherwise, is supposed to transform Pakistan into a Madinah-like state during the rest of its less-than-two years of the mandated term.
The 37-page document also establishes the spinelessness of bureaucracy that doesn’t dare question the legality of the orders coming from the high-ups. Bureaucrats, it is believed, happily carry out all orders, including the unlawful ones, as this is the quickest and easiest way of reaching the pinnacle of their careers.
In the light of this report, the characters held responsible for manipulations or who failed to perform their respective duties should be punished before dusk. They should be tried at the earliest and awarded deterrent punishments so that their colleagues don’t shut their eyes when the call of duty is to stay watchful.
For the beginners: In the first week of August last year, Iftikharul Hasan Shah, PML-N MNA from a national assembly seat NA-75 Daska) passed away. His daughter Nosheen Iftikhar was the party candidate from the seat in the by-election, against Ali Asjad Malhi of the ruling PTI.
The government was determined to win the seat at all costs to create an impression that the PML-N, the most popular party of Punjab for decades, is now losing its appeal and that the PTI is emerging as its successor in the most populous province.
To achieve the target, the government, with the support of a compliant district bureaucracy, employed all tactics to defeat the PML-N candidate. However, the PTI lost the seat with a considerable margin.
The by-election was delayed for six months because of Covid-19. When the exercise was ultimately staged in April this year, Nosheen Iftikhar won the seat pocketing 110,075 votes against her rival Ali Asjad Malhi’s 93,433 votes).
(Her father had got 101,617 votes against the same PTI candidate who had bagged 61,432 votes in the 2018 elections).
The PML-N candidate’s victory despite the use of all possible unfair means caused the ruling PTI tremendous embarrassment. It has been established beyond doubt that governments can cross all limits to achieve their objectives. But what they forget is the fact that man proposes and God disposes.
The Election Commission has issued a 37-page report on what happened in the constituency on the day of the election.
“The district administration was in (the) loop regarding the happening of all undesired and illegal incidents with reference to said by-election at some level,” says the inquiry report against the officers, most of whom have already been placed under suspension.
The other ECP report on the same subject found that election officials and government functionaries acted as “puppets in the hands of their unlawful masters”.
“The presence of the DC, Sialkot, at the suspicious location is a big question mark on his neutrality though he categorically denied. He could not prove his absence from that suspicious place as CDR of his mobile obtained from PTA reveals that his official mobile was used in that vicinity for hours during the night between February 19 and 20,” says the report.
It further says that the “circumstantial evidence and statements of the AEOs/POs reveal that the assistant commissioner (AC), Daska, who was also the assistant returning officer, was already aware of forthcoming events which devastated the law and order situation on the poll day and he in light of that gave certain very specific directions to the AEOs/POs which being the part of record perplexed their minds and also frightened them.”
By issuing unlawful directives to the polling personnel, the report says, the AC of Daska “in fact was harassing the AEOs/POs, convincing them to act in the manner as per his directions and pressurising them to follow the instructions of Farkhanda Yasmeen and Hamid Raza as and when communicated to them.”
“Passing of aforesaid illegal directions by the AC was not less than a criminal act on his part,” the report says in its overall findings.
The district police officer (DPO) deliberately submitted the security plan to the RO office too late in order to avoid any objection, query and pinpointing of loopholes etc,” says the report, adding that “the DPO being the commander of the district police and the SP (Investigation), Sialkot, remained at their homes on the polling day and showed their least concern about law and order situation at the crucial time of the by-election.”
“So, it could be apprehended that they both already knew that what will happen on the poll day in the city regarding worsening of law and order that is why they deliberately let the situation turn untoward as per plan and did not take any substantial initiative to maintain it.
“The DPO as head of the district police is responsible for the wrongdoings of his subordinates as he was the authority to approve each and every act pertaining to the security of the district since he was the authority to issue the security plan.”
The report declares that “the district police was also aware of the incidents which had to happen on the poll day and they either willfully or halfheartedly became the part and parcel in its execution because no concrete steps were seen taken by the district police to stop such untoward incidents which are pointed out by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in its report.”
“The statements submitted by the AEOs/POs ..... revealed that he was involved in subversive activities, tried his level best to jeopardise the election process and alter the results in favour of the government which was a criminal act on his part.
“Though, he denied any such move but his location at Adda Begowala on the same date and time is negating his defence plea,” says the report.
The CDR of his mobile number obtained from PTA shows that he was not only in touch with some leading politicians but also with all suspicious characters. Moreover, his residence became a pivot of unlawful activities where meetings of government functionaries were held regularly.
On one such occasion Naeem Ghous, special secretary, Higher Education Department, Punjab, was summoned and asked to manage the POs from Higher Education Department, Sialkot, and Deputy Director (Colleges).
The AC House, Daska, was also turned into a hub of plenary sessions of Dr Firdous Asiq Awan, then adviser to the Punjab chief minister, where she presided over different meetings.
Needless to mention here that she was not allowed to be present there being an adviser to the CM, as the area fell within the territorial limits of the constituency. Meaning thereby that the AC Daska was facilitating the government to violate ECP’s code of conduct.
“The disbursement of money among the stakeholders for achieving the ulterior motives at different stages cannot be over-ruled altogether as reflected in the statements of the AEOs/POs etc.”
It said that election officials, police and the local administration failed to play their "designated role in a requisite manner and were found [to be] puppets in the hands of their unlawful masters" during the by-election.
The controversial by-election was marred by violence, rigging and the disappearance of over 20 presiding officers (POs) and subsequently, a fact-finding inquiry was launched to probe into the irregularities.
According to the inquiry report, "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 08:30 pm."
"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."
With respect to the role of police, the report stated that the statements of POs, SAPOs, naib qasids, drivers and police personnel revealed that relevant station house officers and sub-sector in-charges did not perform their duties in a requisite manner.
In fact, "they played their ... role in manipulating the whole by-election process," it said.
On the day of the election, the report added, police personnel kept on moving within their jurisdiction and often entered the premises of the polling stations and met polling staff, though it was not their ambit.
Hence, "they committed a breach of their designated duty," the report concluded. "Instead of taking care of polling staff and arranging their safe transport to [the] office of the RO (returning officer) in time, they kept their eyes close[d] and became the part of illegal transportation of POs to some suspicious place at Sialkot or elsewhere."
According to the report, policemen's official vehicles "remained involved transporting or escorting some of [the] missing POs to some undesired places from where they, in a form of a convoy, went to [the] office of the Pasrur DSP and then to Sialkot".
"The DSP Daska was constantly in touch with them and he called every in-charge from his mobile, landline and also directed them through wireless calls but they paid no heed to his calls [...] After the close of [the] poll, either they went to their police stations or their homes for rest and they were least interested in the [recovery of] 20 missing POs from their jurisdiction."
About the RO and the district returning officer, the report said both of them also failed to play their designated roles "with due responsibility and dedication".
"They shifted their due responsibilities on the shoulders of staff to perform various election-related tasks," it said. The report added that illegal activities "were going on under their nose but neither they were aware of that nor they took any notice of it despite their vast experience".
It further highlighted the role of the education department in the disappearance of the POs and that of education department officers in "jeopardising the fair, free and transparent by-election.
Observers say that it will not be easy for the PTI government to deny the allegations mentioned in the report. It has badly damaged the credibility of the ruling party.