An inquiry report by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday revealed that the disappearance of presiding officers during the vote count for the NA-75 Daska by-elections on February 19 was part of a “pre-planned scheme”.
“The election officials and other government functionaries did not play their designated role in a requisite manner but they were found puppets in the hands of their unlawful masters,” the report highlighted.
On 25 February, the ECP ruled that re-election be held in the entire NA-75 Daska constituency after suspicions that the results may have been falsified. An inquiry report was also sought.
“The entire incident was planned. The officers were first taken to Pasrur and then Sialkot,” the report, submitted by Punjab Joint Election Commissioner Saeed Gul, stated.
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 08:30pm.”
Drawing on interviews with returning officers, deputy returning officers and police officials, the 133-page inquiry report fleshes out details of how the entire “master plan” was chalked out.
It was 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.
The report said a meeting was held at the house of Daska’s assistant commissioner to plot the kidnappings. The meeting was attended by former information minister Firdous Ashiq Awan, Deputy Education Director Muhammad Iqbal and other politicians.
“These disclosed facts convincingly take us to the point that [the] mishap in the by-election not just involves the negligence or maladministration of the POs. It was a preplanned scam that could not be possible without the reinforcement from their controlling departments while they also paved the path for other persons’ involvement in this wicked game,” the report said.
The inquiry report raised questions about the role and intentions of officers, adding that the voting staff was instructed to refrain from interfering in the duties of the police and administration.
A police officer was found to have been involved in changing the results under duress by shifting the presiding officers to another place instead of the RO office, the reports stated, adding that the presiding officers left for the RO office in a private car instead of a government vehicle.
The report added that on the polling day 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.”
The report said that Deputy District Education Officer was involved in “suspicious” activities, saying he made extensive calls from a particular number on the day of polling to POs for taking information regarding the voting pattern and was also talking to politicians at the same time to update them. “In an audio recording, he is found of using filthy language which shows his concerns about the inquiry proceedings.”
Shedding further light on the preparations for the manipulation, the report revealed that Muhammad Iqbal Kaloya, deputy director (Colleges), illegally summoned the POs in the office of a college principal to direct them to slow down the voting process and advised against interfering in the doings of district administration and police.
In addition, the report said that the education department employees on election duty were also involved in the incidents
The inquiry report recommended that SAPOs be made bound to remain with POs from the time of collecting election material from the RO’s office a day before the election and till the time of returning the material at the office after the election.
It was recommended in the report the RO and DRO may not be posted at any administrative post and kept away from activities pertaining to elections.
Departmental action was also recommended against police personnel stationed at 20 controversial polling stations.