ISLAMABAD - Even after almost eight months of their formation, the election tribunals (ETs) have failed to dispose of more than half of the petitions they were assigned to hear with regard to the last year’s general elections.

Out of the total 405 petitions received by the 14 ETs set up by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), only 167 election petitions have been decided so far, whereas 238 petitions are still pending adjudication, the poll authority revealed in a statement on Tuesday.

Comprising the retired district and sessions judges, the ETs were set up on June 3, 2013, to hear petitions concerning the May 11 general elections and decide them within four months. 

Of these 14 ETs, five were formed in Punjab, in Faisalabad, Multan, Lahore, Bahawalpur and Rawalpindi and three each in Sindh (Karachi, Sukkur, Hyderabad), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Abbottabad, Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan) and Balochistan (Loralai, Quetta and Hub.) 

The ECP data reveals, of the 405 election petitions, 172 were received by the ETs in Punjab but only 63 were disposed off. In Sindh, 93 petitions were received, only 42 were decided. In KPK, 47 of the total 71 were decided whereas in Balochistan only 15 of 69 petitions were decided.

Taking stock of the prolonged delay on part of the ETs to decide the electoral complaints, the Supreme Court on November 19, 2013, had ordered the election tribunals to decide the election petitions well within the constitutionally prescribed four-month timeframe, which never happened.

The Section 67 (1A) of the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) 1976 states, the election tribunal shall proceed with the trial of the election petition on day-to-day basis and the decision thereof shall be taken within four months from its receipt. The Section 67 (1) of the same Act states, the (election) tribunal may, upon the conclusion of the trial of an election petition, make an order (a) dismissing the petition; (b) declaring the election of the returned candidate to be void; (c) declaring the election of the returned candidate to be void and the petitioner or any other contesting candidate to have been duly elected; or (d) declaring the election as a whole to be void.

Former secretary ECP Kanwar Dilshad held the ECP as well as the ETs responsible for failing to have the election petitions disposed of in time. “The 405 petitions make a very much manageable number. If there was shortage of ETs, the ECP should have constituted more ETs. There is no paucity of former district and sessions judges. I fail to understand why only over a dozen ETs were set up if the requirement was greater than that,” he told this correspondent.

Another reason for delay in the election petitions disposal, Dislahd believed, is the ECP’s limited oversight over the ETs. “The ECP can constitute the election tribunals but it has no mechanism to intervene in case the ETs resort to delaying tactics or they are unable to decide the petitions due to workload. The ECP can only wait-and-see till a petition lands in the superior judiciary and relevant instructions are issued by the courts.”

He said the SC had taken exception to the delay in the disposal of election appeals and had issued necessary instructions to the ETs in November last year for quick disposal of appeals, which, he said, did not leave any role for the ECP on this count. “The ECP can take on the ETs if directed by the SC.”

The 57 (1) and (2) of RoPA 1976 respectively state, (1) For the trial of election petitions under this Act, the ECP shall appoint as many election tribunals as may be necessary. (2) An election tribunal shall consist of a person who has been, or is, or, at the time of his retirement as a district and sessions judge, was qualified to be, a judge of a high court.

The 14 ETs comprised Javed Rashid Mehboobi, Rana Zahid Mehmood, Saif-ur-Rehman Khan, Kazim Ali Malik, Syed Nasir Ali Shah, Dr Zafar Ahmed Khan Sherwani, Zaheeruddin S Leghari, Muhammad Ashfaq Baloch, Zia-ud-Din Khattak, Shahji Rehman Khan, Syed Yahya Zahid Gilani, Muhammad Naeem Kakar, Muhammad Akbar Sani and Syed Abdul Khaliq Shah.