ISLAMABAD :The pending appeals against the decisions of the returning officers regarding scrutiny of the nomination papers for the general elections would be deemed as dismissed due to the constitutional constraints as the election tribunals (ETs) set up to hear those appeals met their term Wednesday night.

Former Secretary ECP Kanwar Dilshad smelled foul play on part of the Election Commission of Pakistan for not constituting greater number of the ET tribunals to hear the appeals. According to him, the requirement of the ETs number considering 24,094 nomination papers was at least 36, compared to the nine tribunals the ECP had set up.

“One fails to understand why the election commission made such a controversial decision when we have no shortage of the High Court judges. At least three dozen ETs were required to hear appeals that came in huge number, as was expected,” he said adding that the electoral body was also empowered to increase time period for appeals hearing.

When approached, Chief Election Commissioner Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim came up with a brief reply. “Seven days is a sufficient time period to decide on appeals. We decided to fix the prescribed period after thorough consultation. I don’t think any appeals would be left pending or unheard. The ETs have time till today (Wednesday) midnight.” When asked about the status of pending appeals, the CEC said, “Let us not get hypothetical. Let’s wait till things come out in black and white.”

Moreover, Section 14 (5) of the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) 1976 provides for deciding the appeals against the decisions of ROs within the time period notified by the commission.

It states, “A candidate, may prefer an appeal against the decision of the returning officer rejecting or, as the case may be, accepting the nomination paper of the candidate to the tribunal constituted for the constituency to which the nomination relates and consisting of not less than two nor more than three judges of the High Court nominated by the commissioner, with the approval of the president; and such appeal shall be summarily decided within such time as may be notified by the commission and any order passed thereon shall be final.”

The ECP had fixed seven-day period from April 11-17 for the ETs to decide appeals against the ROs decisions. It had set up nine election tribunals comprising 22 judges from the four provincial High Courts in this regard.

Presently, the electoral body does not have the actual figure on the exact number of total appeals moved in the election tribunals, those disposed of, as well as the ones that were left pending or not taken up for hearing.

According to ECP officials, the relevant data is being compiled which would be ready by today (Thursday) evening. The ROs decisions on nomination papers, Dilshad said, will become final in case the ET does not dispose of an appeal or take it up for hearing, upon the expiry of seven-day time period. However, he said, the candidates can move Supreme Court to have their grievances addressed.

Quoting an instance, the former secretary ECP said that Sharif brothers had submitted nomination papers on May 31, 2008 to contest a by-election. The RO concerned had accepted their papers while an applicant moved ET against the RO decision.

The ET did not take up the appeal till its tenure expired. “It was apparently a politically motivated move that the tribunal never took up such an important appeal and waited for the expiry of its time period. The matter then came to the ECP. I was the commission’s secretary then. With my signatures, the ECP notified that the ROs decision be deemed final,” Dilshad recalled

“Deciding on appeals in a short period of time creates a room for political interference in electoral matters. The ECP should have increased the time period for appeals hearing or it should have set up greater number of ETs.”

In 1993, Kanwar Dilshad further recalled, the ET had rejected the nomination papers of Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi but the Supreme Court overruled the tribunal’s decision.

The ECP is empowered to take any decision including amending the rules to increase the ET appeals hearing period.

 in the light of Article 218 (3) which says, “It shall be the duty of the election commission to organise and conduct the election and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against.”

Citing the same article, the ECP had got the amended draft of the nomination papers for the general elections amended without requiring a presidential ordinance.