The curious case of Ayaz Sadiq


The real victory would be correcting the flawed electoral system


Mr Justice (retd) Kazim Ali Malik, of the one-man Lahore Election Tribunal, announced the long-awaited verdict concerning the fate of National Assembly Speaker albeit after a delay of nine hours this past Saturday. The tribunal declared result of the 2013 General Elections in NA-122 ‘null and void’ after finding ‘irregularities’ in the election process, committed by the Election Commission and ordered a re-poll in the Lahore constituency where Mr Ayaz Sadiq (Speaker National Assembly) had defeated PTI’s Chairman Imran Khan. Pertinently, the tribunal previously had also ordered a re-polling in NA-125, much to Mr Saad Rafique’s dismay due to ‘some irregularities’ and lapses in election process.

Prior to the celebrations, we have all seen an angry and at times significantly impatient PTI chief demanding verification of the votes casted in four constituencies i.e., NA-110 (Sialkot), NA-122 (Lahore), NA-125 (Lahore) and NA-154 (Lodharan), out of which the tribunal has announced its decision to hold re-election in the contested constituencies of Lahore and more recently Lodharan (detailed judgment of which is not yet available).

However, we have also seen a livid Mr Saad Rafique approaching the Apex Court within days after the tribunal’s decision whereupon the verdict of tribunal on the contested NA-125 was suspended. In light of this (and notable others) recent precedent, it is rather safe to assume that the tribunal’s decision against Mr Ayaz Sadiq will also be overturned in the Supreme Court. Therefore, the seemingly triumphant PTI must be mindful of the fact that decision can still be overturned by the ‘third umpire’.

Despite all the hue and cry over rigging and stealing the people’s mandate following the 2013 General Elections, especially by the PTI chief and his battalion of supporters, the term “rigging” has not been used, mentioned or defined in either of the recent judgments by the tribunal or even in the detailed report of the Judicial Commission. The latest 80-page long pronouncement by Mr Justice (retd) Kazim Ali Malik failed to embark upon the same subject and held that the votes have been ‘materially affected’ thereby declaring the election in NA-122 void in its entirety, and it was further observed by the learned judge that the “Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) shall hold bye-election from the said constituency in accordance with law”.

Mr Justice (retd) Kazim Ali Malik, while scrutinising the election record, held that, inter alia, CNIC numbers mentioned on 6,123 counterfoils were never issued by NADRA; that the polling staff, in violation of the law, wrote incorrect or unreadable CNIC numbers on another 6,302 used counterfoils; that 1,380 ballot papers that were counted as validly polled votes were never issued by the members of the polling staff; and lastly that 1,270 votes cast were neither found from the ballot boxes nor were included in the vote count.

Despite acknowledging blatant discrepancies, the learned tribunal, like the Judicial Commission, has failed to clarify whether a combination of all these ‘irregularities’ can be considered to be rigging or not. As such, we are left without any precise definition of ‘rigging’ at the moment.

Earlier, the Judicial Commission headed by the then honourable Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk in its detailed report rejected the contentions that were raised by PTI which included, inter alia, the allegation pertaining to ‘organised rigging’ in the 2013 General Elections, non-transparent polling, and ‘theft’ of the public mandate. Interestingly, however, the Judicial Commission in its report had also stated that there were ‘irregularities’ only to the extent of ECP, but the same did not reflect a deviation from the public mandate.

Even though, Mr Justice (retd) Kazim Ali Malik has dethroned Mr Ayaz Sadiq from the National Assembly and ordered bye-election in the contested constituency of NA-122, the learned judge has failed to point out Mr Ayaz Sadiq’s personal or his party’s collusion with the election staff which was PTI’s primary assertion. Thus, everyone, excluding the jubilant PTI supporters, is uncertain as to what convinced the tribunal to hold the election void when only NADRA and the ECP – not Mr Ayaz Sadiq or his agents – are blamed for the irregularities in the elections.

One of the possible rationale behind the tribunal’s decision could be that Section 70 of the Representation of Peoples Act 1976 empowers the election tribunal to declare the election void if the same is convinced that the results of the election are ‘materially affected’ due to any individual’s failure to comply with the provisions of the Act.

But then let us be honest: there is a high probability of the fact that results of every constituency in the country suffer from material ‘irregularities’, given the existing electoral process and the level of expertise of our election staff. The question which then is: Should not the results of all constituencies across Pakistan be examined thoroughly to improve and ensure transparency in the system?

Nevertheless, lesson to be learnt from this decision, notwithstanding our political affiliations, is that ousting a member of the National Assembly from the Parliament is not in fact a victory. Correcting the flawed electoral system will be the real victory. These cases should serve as a stepping stone to reform the election mechanism. PTI, as well as other political parties, should invest their time and energy in taking concrete steps which most definitely does not involve staging another dharna in the capital to improve the electoral system before the next General Elections rather than digging into defected results of each and every constituency or maligning the candidates involved.

In light of the existing political situation, the pessimist in me finds it hard to comment on whether a bye-election in NA-122 or next General Elections will be any different from the 2013 General Elections, especially now that the Parliament is not doing much, apart from merely ‘discussing’ the possibility of actually reforming the electoral system. Having said that and given the rapidly developing culture of rights and accountability, the optimist in me yearns and prays to see a reformed electoral system, in neither ‘naya’ nor ‘purana’, but ‘Jinnah ka Pakistan’.