Only forty percent (152 of 379) of the post-election petitions were decided by the election tribunals by December 31, 2013, with the tribunals falling behind the legally stipulated time of 120 days for the disposal of petitions in at least 181 cases.
The election results were officially notified on May 22, 2013, after which the candidates had until July 6 (45 days) to submit petitions with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). There were 14 tribunals constituted across the country to redress election-related complaints by the contesting candidates. The commission received a total of 406 petitions.
This update, covering the proceedings till December 31, 2013, is based upon the observation of tribunals as part of FAFEN’s legal study being commissioned with the assistance of 18 trained lawyers. These lawyers collect information and observe the proceedings of the tribunals.
Around forty percent (152 out of 379) of the cases were decided or disposed of by the tribunals till December 31, 2013. Nine petitions were accepted; 16 were dismissed as withdrawn; 14 were dismissed due to non-prosecution; seven were dismissed after complete trial whereas 92 cases were dismissed on technical grounds making the petitions not-maintainable.
Reasons for dismissal of 14 petitions are not known to FAFEN due to non-availability of the copies of orders. The current pace at which the tribunals are operating may delay the decisions on several petitions beyond the legally stipulated time of 120 days. FAFEN observers recorded 1,450 adjournments of more than seven days in the election tribunals, whereas the election laws and ECP directions urge the tribunals to hear the petitions on a day-to-day basis and do not allow an adjournment of more than seven days.
ECP received a total of 406 petitions, out of which 24 were dismissed by the ECP itself during scrutiny of petitions. FAFEN’s observation data suggests that the ECP had referred as many as 378 petitions to the tribunals as of December 31, 2013. Most of the referred petitions were moved by the contesting candidates, while three petitions were filed by voters. One petition was directly filed with a tribunal in Lahore, bypassing the legal mechanism which resulted in its dismissal at the initial stage.
The Lahore tribunal, being the busiest, received 53 (14%) 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. Lahore, Peshawar and Faisalabad tribunals collectively received one-third of the total election result disputes. Although electoral disputes in Karachi echoed considerably in media, the Karachi tribunal received only 29 petitions.
Tribunals are legally bound to decide a petition within 120 days of their receipt. The tribunals’ time does not start with the date of submission of the petition with the ECP, rather the legal clock starts ticking when tribunals receive a petition from the ECP. The ECP can receive such 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 forwarding the petitions to the tribunals in June 2013. Although a major chunk of the submitted petitions have been forwarded to the respective tribunals, as many as four petitions are either still pending with the ECP or not traceable by FAFEN, as of December 31, 2013.
If analyzed with the date of receipt of petitions by the tribunals, at least 181 petitions are still waiting for a decision despite the lapse of the legally stipulated time for their disposal. Given the pace of the tribunals’ proceedings, more petitions can come under this category in days to come, posing a serious question over the efficacy and efficiency of dispute resolution mechanism in electoral governance.
The petitions forwarded to the tribunals are moved on a single or multiple grounds seeking single or multiple reliefs. A majority of the petitions are either a continuation of challenges to nomination or qualification of returned candidates with the additional ground of use of corrupt practices by the returned candidates or others to sway the elections. There were 38 petitions challenging the nomination process and another 90 challenging the qualification of returned candidates. More than half (209 or 55%) of the petitions, among other grounds, make allegations of corrupt practices by returned candidates, while almost three-fourth (275 or 73%) of the petitions alleged malpractice of other personnel, including the election staff.
Petitioners in 247 cases have sought declaration to the effect that the election of the winning candidates be declared void and they be declared returned candidates instead. Among other reliefs, 120 petitions seek disqualification of the returned candidates and re-polling in the constituency. Another 89 petitions seek recounting of ballots for the entire or parts of the constituencies, 43 demand re-examination of excluded ballots, while 57 seek re-polling in certain polling stations besides 70 petitions seeking other reliefs.
Independent candidates filed the most petitions across the country (96), while the candidates of the three leading parties in the National Assembly filed a major chunk of the petitions. PML-N members filed 66 petitions, almost evenly distributed across the 14 tribunals. PTI members followed with 57 petitions with none of them being filed in Dera Ismail Khan, Hub, Quetta and Sukkur. Members of PPPP –the second largest party in the National Assembly—filed 50 petitions. They party filed nine petitions in Bahawalpur and did not file any petitions in Hub and Rawalpindi.
A party-wise analysis of the petitions shows that PML-N – the party with the most seats in the National Assembly (over 50%) – had the majority share of the petitions filed against its winning candidates. According to the data available with FAFEN, over a third (135, or 35%) of the 379 petitions were filed against the party’s candidates.
Most of the petitions were filed in Punjab (112), with 46 petitions filed in Lahore followed by Faisalabad (27), Bahawalpur (19) and Multan (14). No petitions were filed against PML-N candidates in Dera Ismail Khan and Hyderabad.
PPPP’s returned candidates were nominated in 49 petitions – mostly in Sindh with 25 petitions in Hyderabad and 18 in Sukkur.
 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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