LAHORE - PML-N leaders on Saturday came down hard on the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government for allegedly rigging the by-poll in Sialkot’s Daska district. A day earlier, the findings of an inquiry report released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) revealed irregularities in the Daska by-poll.

PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique while addressing a press conference along with former speaker of National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, and other PML-N leaders in Lahore called the PTI government the champions of rigging. 

“After the Daska report, is any other proof needed that this government stole the votes [it] needed?, Saad Rafique Questioned. The by-poll in the NA-75 constituency had turned controversial following incidents of violence, reports of rigging and the disappearance of 20 presiding officers (POs). Subsequently, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had withheld the results of the by-poll and ordered re-election in the entire constituency on suspicion that the results may have been falsified. 

He said the PML-N had devised a roadmap and the party would take to the streets to demand from the government to reduce prices and control inflation. “It is their job to reduce prices, but they are not doing it.”  He went on to say the government needed to realise that the “system has failed and to prevent further disorder, the government needs to step down and hold new elections.”

Firdous Awan says she will challenge investigation report on Daska election

Sadiq read out a list of commodities, comparing their prices in 2018 with their current rates. 

Criticising the government for the rise in prices, he said the growing inflation made people believe that the “rulers are thieves”. “The loans they have taken surpassed the amount previous governments borrowed over the past 10 years,” he said. 

A by-poll was again held in the constituency in April this year, with PML-N’s Syeda Nosheen Ifti¬khar winning the contest by securing 110,075 votes.

A report on irregularities during the February by-poll was released yesterday (Friday), wherein it was concluded that election officials, police and the local administration failed to play their “designated role in the requisite manner and were found [to be] puppets in the hands of their unlawful masters”.

The report further stated that PTI leader and former special assistant to the Punjab chief minister Firdous Ashiq Awan had participated in meetings held at the Daska assistant commissioner’s house for “manipulating the election process.” The inquiry revealed that the by-poll fiasco was a result of negligence and maladministration on part of relevant officials and a “pre-planned scam”.

Referring to the report, Rafique said that the PTI had made “false and hollow claims” about transparency and free and fair elections in the past and accused others of rigging elections. “But, is there anything left for them to say after the [release of] the Daska report?” he questioned rhetorically.

Commenting on the contentious electoral reforms proposed by the incumbent government, Rafique alleged that similar to the PTI having the helping hand of the Results Transmission System (RTS) in the 2018 general election, they were planning to have electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next polls.

He accused the PTI government of “planning a daylight robbery” of the 2023 elections, but warned that “the people of Pakistan and [the rest of the] political parties will not let them succeed.”

Sadiq, meanwhile, said the government would be committing “constitutional violations” by implementing its proposed election reforms unilaterally. On the use of EVMs, he said the people of Pakistan would not tolerate the government bulldozing the reforms for the use of the machines through the joint session of parliament, as they did in the NA.

He said his party, too, wanted to give voting rights to overseas Pakistanis — which is one of the proposals made in the reforms — but that the government was unwilling to discuss the matter with the opposition and wanted to introduce a mechanism to have complete control.

Meanwhile, Former Special Assistant to the Chief Minister of Punjab on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan on Saturday said that a report presented by an Election Commission official on the manner in which the Daska by-elections were held is being “distorted”.

Addressing a press conference, Awan said that PTI candidates from Daska had taken the report to the Supreme Court. “We have spoken about hundreds of petitions related to returning officer’s (RO) and District Returning Officers (DRO); our concerns about these officers were valid,” she said.

Later, speaking to a TV channel Awan said that the Punjab government will issue an official statement regarding the ECP report. “The report did not mention any ill-intent on my part,” she said, adding that her name has been mentioned in the report “to give it a certain colour”.

Awan said that the report only mentions that she was present in the AC office. “Where does it say in the report that there was misconduct on my part?” “No meeting was held in the AC office. False allegations against my person have been made,” she added.

“ I will challenge the investigation report on the Daska election,” she said, adding that the responsibility of the party’s campaign was not given to her but others. Show host Shahzad Iqbal questioned Awan over whether she was present in the meetings held at the AC House or the Women’s Degree College.

“Absolutely not,” Awan reiterated.