Only eight cases were decided by the election tribunals between July 01 and August 10, 2014 – bringing the total number of decided cases to 326 out of 410 (300 out of 384 by the tribunals and 26 by the ECP itself). Of the most recent eight cases, five were accepted while three were dismissed due to multiple reasons. On the other hand, 84 petitions are still awaiting decisions by the election tribunals.
Of the 326 petitions decided, 152 cases (126 by the tribunals and 26 by the ECP itself) have been dismissed on grounds of technical deficiencies, implying that the merits of the petitions were not adjudicated on. Twenty-nine petitions have been accepted; 22 dismissed due to non-prosecution; 28 dismissed as withdrawn and 62 dismissed after complete trial. The reasons for dismissal of 33 petitions are not known to FAFEN due to non-availability of their copies of orders despite continuous efforts to obtain them.
Given the backlog, the ECP seems to have failed to ensure compliance with the mandatory legal provision of disposing of election petitions within 120 days of receipt by the tribunals. The law stipulates 120 days for the tribunals to dispose of a petition, whereas the Supreme Court has 30 days to dispose of an appeal. However, there is no provision in the law which deals with writ petitions against interim orders of election tribunals or the timeframe for their disposal, if filed. As a result, the stay orders passed by high courts against writ petitions have continued for several months, delaying the disposal of petitions within the legally-stipulated deadline. Currently all the six petitions pending with the election tribunals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are due to pendency of matters in the high courts.
With regards to the 29 petitions accepted, eight were filed by independent candidates, six by PPPP members and four by PML-N candidates. None of the petitions filed by PTI have been accepted so far.
On the other hand, 13 petitions accepted are against the returned candidates of PML-N – the party with the highest number of seats in the National Assembly. Eight petitions cite independent candidates as respondents, while three cite returned candidates of PTI as defendants.
Region-wise, the tribunals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are far ahead of other provinces in the disposal of cases. As of August 10, 2014, the tribunals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa disposed of 91% (63 out of 69) of the cases referred by the ECP, followed by Balochistan (86%, or 52 out of 60), Sindh (82%, or 75 out of 91) and Punjab (67%, or 110 out of 164).
However, the current pace at which the tribunals are operating has delayed the decisions of 84 petitions. Meanwhile, FAFEN has recorded 2,469 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 days1.
It is important to note that 11 petitions are pending due to stay orders issued by high courts, whereas five are awaiting verification reports from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).
Most of the referred petitions were moved by contesting candidates, while three petitions were filed by voters. The ECP received 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 sent back by the Rawalpindi tribunal and dismissed by ECP itself due to non-prosecution, bringing the number of cases dismissed by the ECP to 26. Meanwhile, one petition was filed directly with the tribunal in Lahore, bypassing the legal mechanism which resulted in its dismissal at the initial stage.
As many as 98 petitions were filed by independent candidates, followed by PML-N members who filed 66 petitions. PTI members filed 58 petitions, while PPPP members filed 50 petitions. Meanwhile, PML-N – the party with the highest number of seats in the National Assembly – also had the highest number of petitions citing the party as the respondent. According to FAFEN’s data, over one-third (137 or 35%) of the 384 petitions were filed against the party’s winning candidates. Independent candidates were nominated in 78 petitions, while PPPP and PTI had 50 and 30 cases filed against their candidates respectively.
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 election results were officially notified on May 22, 2013, following which the candidates had until July 6 to submit their petitions. The tribunals are legally bound to decide a case within 120 days of its receipt. Since no time limit is stipulated for the ECP to forward or dismiss the petitions, some cases remain pending with the ECP for more than 120 days. According to FAFEN’s data, the Lahore tribunal received at least two petitions on January 29, 2014.
The petitions 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.
1 The “Handbook on Election Tribunal Petition Process” published by the ECP in 2013 mentions that “in 2009, an amendment to Representation of People Act 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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