The election tribunals established by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to redress post-election disputes have fallen behind the legally-stipulated deadline to dispose of petitions in 184 out of the 190 pending cases.
As of February 28, 2014, only 54% (220 out of 410) of the post-election disputes were decided by the tribunals and the ECP (195 out of 385 by tribunals and 25 by ECP). Meanwhile, the tribunal in Dera Ismail Khan has become the first to dispose of all the 13 petitions referred by the ECP. Its presiding officer is now hearing some of the petitions filed with the Peshawar tribunal which have been transferred by the 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 the 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 petition forwarded to the Lahore tribunal after numbering and another petition filed directly with the Lahore tribunal are missing from the ECP’s data.
This update, covering the proceedings of election tribunals till February 28, 2014, is based upon the direct observation of the tribunals as part of FAFEN’s legal study being commissioned with the assistance of 18 trained lawyers.
According to the observation, around fifty percent (195 out of 385) of the petitions were decided or disposed of by the tribunals as of February 28, 2014. Thirteen petitions were accepted; 18 dismissed due to non-prosecution; 18 dismissed as withdrawn; 14 dismissed after complete trial whereas 97 cases were dismissed on technical grounds making the petitions not-maintainable. Reasons for dismissal of 35 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 184 (97%) out of 190 petitions still pending with the tribunals. FAFEN observers have recorded 1,936 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 as of February 28, 2014. One petition was directly filed 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 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 a total of 30 petitions – significantly 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 ECP to forward or dismiss the petitions, some cases remain pending with the commission for more than 120 days. According to the data collected by FAFEN observers, the Lahore tribunal received at least two petitions on January 29, 2014.
If analyzed with the date of receipt, nearly 184 petitions (48% of 385 petitions received by tribunals) are still awaiting decisions despite the lapse of the legally-stipulated time for their disposal.
The petitions forwarded to the tribunals are moved on a single or multiple grounds seeking single or multiple reliefs. A majority of the petitions challenge 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 have sought declaration to the effect that the election of the winning candidates be declared void and the petitioners be declared returned candidates instead. Among other reliefs, 122 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.
Most of the petitions (99) were filed by independent candidates, followed by PML-N members who filed 66 petitions with 13 tribunals. PTI members filed 58 petitions – 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 none in Hub and Rawalpindi.
PML-N – the party with the maximum seats in the National Assembly – had the highest number of petitions filed against its winning candidates. According to data available with FAFEN observers, over one-third (138 or 35%) of the 385 petitions were filed against the party’s winning candidates. Most of the petitions were filed in Punjab (115), with 49 petitions being 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 being filed 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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