The election tribunals established by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to redress post-election disputes have failed to dispose of as many as 150 out of 156 petitions within the legally-stipulated deadline.
As of March 31, 2014, only 62% (254 of 410) of the post-election petitions were decided by the tribunals and the ECP (229 out of 385 by 14 tribunals and 25 by ECP).
The ECP constituted 14 tribunals across the country following the 2013 General Elections to redress election-related complaints of contesting candidates. The election results were officially notified on May 22, 2013, following which the candidates were given until July 6 (45 days) to submit their petitions. The ECP received a total of 409 petitions, while one petition was filed directly with the Lahore Tribunal.
It is, however, important to note that ECPs data released on January 28, 2014 shows 407 petitions filed with the commission. One petition numbered and later on cancelled by the ECP, one forwarded to the Lahore Tribunal after numbering and another filed directly with the Lahore Tribunal are missing from the ECP’s data.
This update, covering the proceedings till March 31, 2014, is based on direct observation of tribunals as part of FAFEN’s legal study being commissioned with the assistance of 18 trained lawyers.
According to the observation, around sixty percent (229 out of 385) of the petitions have so far been decided or disposed of by the tribunals. Eighteen petitions were accepted; 17 were dismissed due to non-prosecution; 23 dismissed as withdrawn; 20 dismissed after complete trial whereas 111 petitions were dismissed on technical grounds which made them not maintainable. Reasons for dismissal of 40 petitions are not known to FAFEN due to non-availability of the copies of orders.
The current pace at which the tribunals are operating has already delayed the decisions of 150 (96%) out of 156 petitions pending with the tribunals. Meanwhile, FAFEN observers have recorded 2,076 adjournments of over seven days in the tribunals, in violation of election laws and ECP’s directions which urge the tribunals to hear the petitions on a day-to-day basis and do not allow an adjournment of more than seven days.
The ECP received a total of 409 petitions, out of which 25 were dismissed by the ECP itself during scrutiny. FAFEN’s data suggests that the ECP referred 384 petitions to the tribunals. One petition was filed directly with the tribunal in Lahore, bypassing the legal mechanism which resulted in its dismissal at the initial stage. Most of the referred petitions were moved by the contesting candidates, while three petitions were filed by voters.
The Lahore tribunal, being the busiest, received 56 petitions, highlighting the high prevalence of result-related disputes in Lahore and its suburban districts. The Peshawar tribunal received 40 petitions, followed by Faisalabad with 39 petitions. Collectively, the tribunals in Lahore, Peshawar and Faisalabad received one-third of the total election result disputes. Although disputes in Karachi echoed considerably in media, the Karachi tribunal received 30 petitions – considerably lower compared to the number of petitions filed in Lahore and Peshawar.
The election tribunals are legally bound to decide a petition within 120 days of their receipt. The ECP can accept petitions within 45 days of the gazette notification of the returned candidates and can either dismiss or forward a petition to the respective tribunal at a time it may deem fit after initial scrutiny. The ECP started referring the petitions to the tribunals in June 2013. As there is no time limit for the ECP to forward or dismiss the petitions, some cases remain pending with the commission for more than 120 days. According to FAFEN’s data, the Lahore Tribunal received at least two petitions on January 29, 2014.
If analyzed with the date of receipt, nearly 150 petitions (39% of 385) are still awaiting decisions despite the lapse of the legally-stipulated deadline.
The petitions forwarded to the tribunals are moved on single or multiple grounds and seek single or multiple reliefs. A majority of the petitions challenged the nomination or qualification of returned candidates with the additional ground of use of corrupt practices to sway the elections.
There were 38 petitions challenging the nomination process and another 91 challenging the qualification of returned candidates. More than half (212 or 55%) of the petitions, among other grounds, made allegations of corrupt practices employed by returned candidates, while almost three-fourth (277 or 72%) of the petitions accused other personnel, including election officials, of malpractice.
Petitioners in 248 cases sought declaration to the effect that the election of the winning candidate be declared void and the petitioner be declared returned candidate instead. Among other reliefs, 122 petitions sought disqualification of the returned candidates and re-polling in the constituency. Another 89 petitions sought recounting of ballots for the entire or parts of the constituencies, 43 demanded re-examination of excluded ballots while 57 sought re-polling at certain polling stations besides 70 petitions seeking other reliefs.
Most of the petitions (99) were filed by independent candidates, followed by PML-N members who filed 66 petitions. PTI members filed 58 petitions, while PPPP member filed 50 petitions.
PML-N – the party with the highest number of seats in the National Assembly – had the highest number of petitions filed against its winning candidates. According to FAFEN’s data, over one-third (138 or 35%) of the 385 petitions were filed against the party’s winning candidates. Meanwhile, PPPP’s returned candidates were nominated in 49 petitions.
 It was specifically mentioned in the “HANDBOOK ON ELECTION TRIBUNAL PETITION PROCESS” published by the ECP in 2013: “In 2009, an amendment to ROPA was adopted stating that “no adjournment shall be granted to any party for more than seven days and that too on payment of costs as the Tribunal may determine”.
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