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All Eyes on Islamabad: Form-45 vs. Form-47

Observers and experts warn any tribunal rulings in favor of losing candidates threaten the credibility of the entire election process

by Sumeera Riaz

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Challenges to the results of the Feb. 8 general elections for Islamabad have taken an outsized importance, as experts warn that any decision in favor of the opposition risks bringing to question the credibility of the entire electoral process.

Since the announcement of the results of the general elections, losing candidates of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-backed independents have alleged massive rigging, maintaining the final tallies do not match the Form-45s provided to them by presiding officers. Form-45s are used during the counting process at the polling station level and are provided to each party’s polling agents; Form-46s contains details of invalid and cancelled ballots; and Form-47s collate the results, providing unconfirmed results. To prove their claims, the PTI candidates have made public the Form-45s in their possession—which their opponents claim are “fake”—and are presently contesting dozens of cases before election tribunals nationwide.

“The decisions of election tribunals in Islamabad, Peshawar and Lahore, if decided in favor of the opposition, could trigger consequences for the federal and Punjab governments,” says former Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) secretary Kanwar Dilshad. Speaking with Standard, he claims the key constituencies to watch are those of Nawaz Sharif (NA-130); Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz (PP-159); Aleem Khan (NA-117); and Aun Chaudhry (NA-128). “Of these, Nawaz Sharif’s constituency is the most vulnerable,” he claims, adding any decision of the election tribunal that negates the results announced by the ECP could serve “as a perfect recipe for chaos.”

However, says Dilshad, the biggest blow to the incumbent government could come from the election tribunal in Islamabad. “If the election tribunal finds any evidences of rigging, tampering and discrepancies in Form-45s and -47s and announces its verdict in favor of the PTI’s candidates, it would put at stake the credibility of the whole election process in Pakistan,” he warns.

Islamabad’s contested constituencies

On Feb. 20, a division bench of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) suspended the ECP’s notifications for returning candidates of NA-46 (Anjum Aqeel Khan), NA-47 (Tariq Fazal Chaudhry) and NA-48 (Raja Khurram Nawaz Khan) on a petition filed by losing PTI candidates Amir Mughal, Mohammad Shoaib Shaheen and Mohammad Ali Bukhari. Proceedings in an Election Tribunal have been stonewalled, with returning officers (ROs) failing to appear before court despite multiple summons. Most recently, the winning candidates—all members of the ruling PMLN—have sought transfer of their cases, citing a lack of confidence in the tribunal, with the matter pending before the ECP.

Referring to the ROs’ refusal to appear before the tribunal, PTI candidate Shaheen alleged it indicated they were attempting to hide their wrongdoing during the polling process. Slamming the ECP, he claimed the PTI’s stance on rigging was endorsed by caretaker prime minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar during an argument with PMLN’s Hanif Abbasi. Additionally, he demanded information on the whereabouts of the former Rawalpindi commissioner who alleged “massive rigging” at the behest of Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa before subsequently retracting his statement and disappearing from public view.

While the PMLN’s winning candidates refused any comment to the Standard on the “sub judice” matter, multiple independent groups have alleged rigging during the 2024 general elections, rubbishing any impression of their conduct being free and fair.

Independent observers

Sarwar Bari of the Pattan Development Organization claims its independent audit of Form-45s, -46s, and -47s supports the PTI’s narrative of its votes having been “shifted” to benefit its rivals. Alleging “seven” forms of rigging, he said the most prominent appeared to be adding digits either before or after votes secured by losing candidates; shifting votes of winning candidates to losing ones; overwriting on Form-45s, -46s, -47s; and mismatch between signatures of presiding officers. “Therefore, we do not call it rigging,” he said, accusing the ECP of perpetrating “fraud.”

He further alleged that in some constituencies returning officers signed Form-45s that require the signatures of presiding officers under law.

Adding to the controversy are recent steps by the federal government and ECP to exert some authority over election tribunals, which critics claim are aimed at legitimizing the alleged rigging. Initially, the ECP had requested the assignment of nine judges of the LHC to election tribunals but the court only agreed to depute two. Subsequently, the LHC agreed to notify six additional judges, but the ECP has thus far refused to notify them, demanding a say in the judges who would be appointed.

On May 29, the LHC ordered the ECP to notify six more tribunals against nominations sent by the chief justice, maintaining the electoral body was bound to appoint judges nominated by the chief justice. Within days of this order, the federal government promulgated the Election Act Amendment Ordinance, which allows the appointment of retired judges to election tribunals in addition to serving judges.

According to former ECP secretary Dilshad, retired judges had similarly been appointed to decide election cases after the 2013 elections but the electoral body had raised concerns over their “unsatisfactory performance” after the 2018 polls and sought an amendment to Section 104 of the Election Act, 2017. This Section, he said, was now restored and would apply to all tribunals established in future—though would have no impact on the functioning of existing tribunals.

Noting this decision risked further eroding the credibility of the electoral process and the fair hearing of pending petitions, Pakistan Institute for Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) Director Ahmed Bilal Mehboob recalled it reverted the law to its previous state, restoring a previously removed clause. He said the amendment was justified so long as the high courts were unwilling to spare serving judges to head tribunals, but the LHC’s decision to increase its deputation had corrected this. The timing of the ordinance, he added, indicated the ECP had waited for it rather than notifying additional tribunals per the LHC order.

“In the present context, when there is visible tension between the judiciary and the government and the judiciary is exerting its independence more than ever in the past, the appointment of retired judges might be interpreted as an effort to avoid expected independent judgments of the tribunals headed by serving judges,” he claimed.

While the ordinance has no impact on the functioning of existing tribunals, all future tribunals can now be presided over by retired judges instead of serving ones. “It is a general perception that retired judges may be more prone to executive influence and the influence of the ECP after the ordinance,” claimed legal expert Ahmed Pansota, adding the timing of the ordinance suggested it was solely aimed at ensuring preferable tribunals were formed under the LHC.

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