KARACHI - The women polling staff members, who were slapped by PPP candidate Waheeda Shah during PS-53 Tando Muhammad Khan by-polls, pardoned the accused, as the ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) started a summary trial of the incident on Saturday.

During the hearing, Returning Officer Ali Asghar Sial recorded the statements of the victim polling staff, candidates and police officers on the orders of the ECP at the office of provincial election commission.

After the hearing, Presiding Officer Habiba Memon and Assistant Presiding officer Shagufta Memon told media persons that they explained the circumstances leading to the unfortunate incident at the Women Polling Station No 16.

Habiba Memon said a large number of women voters were present at that time, which caused some mismanagement. The PPP candidate’s polling agents gave wrong information of rigging, after which Waheeda Shah arrived at the polling station and slapped Shagufta without verifying the reports, she added.

Habiba said they called in police, who reached at the spot immediately, adding that the incident was a result of misunderstanding. However, they pardoned Waheeda after she apologised for the rude act, she told reporters, adding that Waheeda had also visited their house to apologise personally.

The presiding officer said the pardon was not a result of any pressure, as they followed the tradition because Waheeda had come to their house.

Interestingly, Shagufta, who was slapped by Waheeda, did not talk to media; however, the two other women accompanying her told journalists that she had forgiven Waheeda.

In her statement recorded at the ECP office, Shagufta said the incident was cause by misunderstanding and wrong information provided by the PPP candidate’s polling agents, adding that the issue was settled at the polling station, where Waheeda asked for forgiveness.

She admitted that they had not carried the identity cards issued by the ECP on the polling day, which caused further mix-up. Another polling staff member Zahida Soomro also recorded her statement as an eyewitness.

The area police officer, DSP Ifran Shah, while recording his statement said he reached the polling station following the reports of rigging and controlled the situation.

He said Waheeda was asked to leave the premises after incident, adding that both the parties opted to compromise and polling process started again after it remained suspended for some time. Former PPP supporter Amir Zardari, who contested by-polls as an independent, claimed that the government broke all records of rigging, as even a federal minister, Naveed Qamar, was involved in the irregularities.

Meanwhile, Waheeda did not appear to record her statement. Her lawyer had requested the ECP to give some time, as her client had arrived from Islamabad today (Saturday) and was tired.

The ECP, while accepting the request, summoned the accused to record her statement tomorrow (Monday). Although Waheeda won the by-election, the ECP withheld the result over the slapping issue.

The Supreme Court on Friday had refused to accept an unconditional apology from Waheeda while hearing a suo motu notice of the incident.

The court also criticised the ECP and Sindh Police for their failure to act promptly against the PPP candidate.

The incident attracted widespread criticism, as local and foreign media highlighted the incident. The visuals of the slapping the polling staff were repeatedly aired by TV channel, questioning the maturity of political parties and their workers, and role of the government servants while performing official duties.