The ECP decided to issue notices to the former prime minister and his son Ali Haider Gilani over a video in which Ali was seen telling PTI MNAs how to make a vote in the Senate election invalid by over-writing and ticking in front of the names of all candidates on the ballot paper and purportedly offered money and development funds.
The commission once again asked the PTI to also include as respondents the names of two of its lawmakers — Jamil Ahmed and Fahim Khan — who were allegedly involved in the video.
However, the ECP rejected the plea to stop the issuance of the notification confirming Gilani’s victory in the recent elections for the upper house of parliament.
A four-member bench of the Election Commission, headed by its member from Punjab, Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi, heard the petition.
Advocate Amir Abbas, lawyer for PTI’s Alia Hamza, said that the nation had seen the ECP’s authority over the last two months.
“The Election Commission’s job is to hold transparent and fair elections. [Its] decisions should also be based on equality and justice.“
Talking about the ECP’s decision of re-polling in the NA-75 (Daska) constituency, Abbas said that a video had been presented in the case, the forensic analysis of which had not been conducted.
“The commission declared that people had been killed in Daska [but] nobody has been punished yet. Nothing was known about the killers till the ECP’s decision.
“[If] the candidate, election agent, or someone on behalf of them does corruption, the election becomes void. Corruption in elections includes bribery and influencing of voters.”
The ECP member then instructed the lawyer to talk about the facts of the case since the commission was aware of the law.
The electoral body’s member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Irshad Qaiser, observed that the case was a “question of the country’s future”.
He assured the petitioners that whatever decision the ECP took on thís “sensitive matter” would be done so independently.
However, Abbas argued that the video and evidence in the Daska case were “not looked at properly”.
To this, ECP member Qureshi replied that the case was pending before the Supreme Court, telling Abbas not to stress on the Daska decision because it had been challenged.
The petitioner’s counsel then argued that the Supreme Court had directed that elections be held in a transparent and fair manner. He said that his case was not related to the criminal aspect of bribery since that would be dealt with separately, instead it was related to the transparency of the election process.
He further said that an application had already been filed with the commission before the Senate elections.
Presenting his argument, Abbas said Gilani’s son had acknowledged he was in the video, adding that it was the election commission’s duty to stop corrupt people from entering the Parliament.
Meanwhile, the petitioner Alia Hamza herself argued before the ECP that “bids were raised in front of the ECP.”
Abbas questioned whether permission could be granted for corruption if the ballot papers were not identifiable.
“If someone accepts [his corruption] before the entire media, it is considered as proof. Tribunals’ decisions do not take four years [then]. When the facts have been acknowledged, there is no need for forensics.”
Hamza then said that PTI’s Fauzia Arshad had received more votes than Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh in the Senate elections to which ECP’s Qureshi replied that this was the beauty of democracy and secret voting.
However, Abbas said that it was this “beauty of democracy due to which briefcases full of money were moved about”.
ECP’s Qureshi said it was unfortunate that the PTI itself was saying its members had been bought. He said the commission had watched the video yesterday and asked who was present in it.
“There were no currency notes seen in Ali Haider Gilani’s video,” he added.
Qureshi said the decision to hold the polls through secret ballot was taken in view of the Supreme Court’s orders and if somebody had an issue with that, they could challenge it.
After Abbas, Barrister Ali Zafar started his arguments, informing the ECP that the PTI did not want to make the MNAs seen in the video respondents in the case.
He also told the ECP that PTI lawmakers Jamil Ahmed and Fahim Khan were in the video upon which the commission’s Punjab member questioned how it could be proved.
The counsel then submitted affidavits from the two lawmakers, saying “both of them have accepted it in the affidavits.”
The ECP reminded Zafar it had directed that an amended petition be filed in which the two PTI lawmakers be made respondents.
Zafar, however, said that the party did not want to make Ahmed and Khan respondents in the case and they had not accepted the offer in the video.
The ECP member from KP observed that the affidavit submitted by the lawmakers did not have the stamp from the commissioner. The counsel responded that the commission could hold an inquiry if it suspected the affidavits were false.
He also informed the ECP that the people who had made the video wanted to appear as witnesses in the case.
To this, ECP’s Qureshi questioned whether those who took bribes were witnesses or suspects. Zafar replied that in the party’s eyes, parliamentarians in the video were not suspects.
He further said that the PTI’s case was “proof of the offer of bribery”. However, it could not be termed a sting operation, he clarified.
ECP’s member from KP observed that the video was not “complete proof” as per the SC’s past judgements.
PTI’s Malika Bukhari revealed that Ali Gilani had talked about giving packages to MNAs (members of the National Assembly) in which Rs100 million would be given for development purposes while Rs50 or 60mn would be given separately.
ECP’s Qaiser questioned whether the two PTI lawmakers had accepted the offer.
“Offers were made to both of them which is a crime,” the petitioners’ counsel said, adding that they were ready to appear before the ECP.
He referred to Ahmed’s affidavit in which he said he met Ali Gilani for the purpose of asking him for votes and recorded the entire conversation. MNA Faheem Khan was also present but he did not make a video, Zafar said.
He said that when the Supreme Court was hearing a case against former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, an audio recording had emerged and the top court had declared the decision illegal after the video was not rejected.
Similarly, no rejection had come forth from Yousuf Gilani, he added. “When Yousuf Gilani has not refuted the video, how can the commission reject it?” he asked.
He said the ECP had taken a decision on the Daska by-poll after watching footage on television to which the commission’s KP member responded that the ECP was neutral.
“Election Commission did not verify the videos [regarding Daska],” Zafar said.
However, Qaiser pointed out that the word of the returning officer and district returning officer had been considered as proof in the Daska by-poll case.
Qureshi said the ECP had not termed any video as wrong. “[We] will analyse it,” he added.
Moving on to the matter of stopping the issuance of notification, Qureshi said that the ECP had received a “lot of petitions” to stop notifications. “Should we stop notifications of all senators?” he asked.
During the hearing, the PTI also submitted a video of former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in which he allegedly claimed that people had taken money in advance from him for voting in the Senate elections, according to the PTI counsel.
He also submitted a video of former president Asif Ali Zardari in which Zafar alleged that Zardari had asked why there was only a difference of five votes between Gilani and PTI’s Hafeez Shaikh.
Meanwhile, shortly after the hearing, the ECP notified Gilani’s victory along with PTI’s Fauzia Arshad from Islamabad. Eleven senators were notified from Punjab, 12 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 11 from Sindh and 12 from Balochistan.
A day earlier, the ECP had accepted a PTI petition seeking early hearing of its plea for disqualification of senator-elect Gilani.
The decision came hours after PTI lawmakers Farrukh Habib, Maleeka Bokhari and Kanwal Shauzab in their petition asked the ECP not to issue a notification of Gilani’s victory in the recently held Senate polls and sought early hearing of the case which was earlier scheduled for March 11 — a day before the election for the coveted slot of Senate chairman.
The petition was filed on the basis of a leaked audio clip of Sindh Minister Nasir Hussain Shah purportedly bargaining with four PTI lawmakers for their votes in Senate elections and a video of Gilani’s son, Ali Haider, in which he is showing some PTI MNAs ways to waste their votes.
“The issuance of the notification should be stopped till the action on the video scandal is completed,” the petition said.
“Ali Haider Gilani kept bribing members of the National Assembly,” the petitioners claimed. They also alleged that PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz, in her speeches, made promises of giving lawmakers PML-N tickets in the next general elections if they voted for Gilani in the Senate polls.
‘Another victory for PDM’
Speaking to media in Islamabad, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani termed the ECP decision “another victory” for the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement.
“The ECP has rejected their (PTI’s) baseless, frivolous application which had asked for Yousuf Raza Gilani’s [victory] notification to be stopped,” he said, noting that the Islamabad High Court had also rejected a similar plea filed by the ruling party.
Ghani said if some things were happening according to the Constitution and law in the country, the government “should not worry” about them.
He added that the ECP “for the first time” had tried to use its mandate and powers as per the Constitution and successfully did so. “So instead of mudslinging, the prime minister should support and appreciate [the ECP],” he emphasised.
“ECP should exercise its powers the way it has started to,” the minister said, adding that the stance adopted by the commission in the Supreme Court where it opposed the use of open ballot in the March 3 Senate elections was “exactly according to the Constitution”.
He further said the PTI had accused the ECP of having taken no measures despite knowing that money would be used in the Senate elections, but alleged that the ruling party itself issued tickets to its candidates after taking tens of millions of rupees from them.
“So I think morally PTI should not even talk about any party using money because no party has done it more than the PTI,” Ghani said, terming PTI as “the only party which is corrupt as a party” even when it is not in power.