ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission yesterday rejected the allegations about vote shuffle in Punjab by-elections, as PTI said it was investigating the scale of alleged voter list manipulation, warning of widespread protests if major irregularities were found. Talking to The Nation, ECP Spokesman Khurshid Alam however said voters list cannot be changed at the eleventh hour. He said that over Rs10.5 million had been spent on display of voters list in print media so that voters could know about location of their polling stations.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) spokesman however pledged action if it is found that any voter was deprived of his constitutional right by vote transfer or any other means. Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan complained about last minute vote transfer soon after his party candidate lost to PML-N in NA-122 by-election held on Sunday.

Imran said his party would probe into the changes made to voters list which he termed as rigging on the part of the ECP and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). PTI Punjab Organiser Ch Sarwar also told a press conference yesterday, “Nadra and ECP officials on the instruction of PML-N government shifted many votes of PTI from NA-122 to other areas without the voters’ consent. The figure if probed properly may run into thousands.”

“On the other hand a large number of PML-N voters from other localities were registered in NA-122. Our teams are collecting data to bring the real facts before the public,” Sarwar said, in presence of PTI candidate Aleem Khan and newly elected MPA Shoaib Siddiqui. Sarwar warned widespread protests if PTI found irregularities in voters’ list. He, however, added that PTI will ignore minor mistakes in the list and accept the result with big heart. “PTI teams are reviewing the recently registered voters in NA-122 as to confirm whether they live in the area or not and why the real residents have been shifted to other localities,” he said.

But, ECP spokesman said elections on NA-144, NA-122 and PP-147 were held on the voters list that existed during 2013 elections. “Display of voters list is one of the essential formalities in holding elections. The list is displayed in the areas so that voters could confirm their votes. It is impossible to make changes in the list suddenly,” he added. He said that apart from display of voters list, voters can confirm their votes through mobile text messages. He said no complaint of vote change has been registered with the ECP.

The spokesman said the commission will definitely take action if any voter has been deprived of his right to vote or the vote of anybody has been transferred to another area. “But it is not possible. We have given plenty of time to voters to verify their votes and location. It is database and you cannot shuffle votes at a short notice,” he maintained. At the press conference when journalists asked why the PTI failed to point out alleged irregularities in the voters’ list before the polls, losing candidate Aleem Khan replied that the list had been given to them after the announcement of election schedule.

“We did not have enough time to check the voters’ list. We were focusing on campaign,” said Aleem. Aleem also claimed there was a factory whose entire staff and their families votes had been transferred from other localities to NA-122. “Once we get the proof we will expose those behind this move,” he maintained.

PTI leader Aslam Iqbal said the government had conducted poll survey through eight to 10 agencies in the area. He claimed that the residents were asked to tell their names, identity card numbers and political affiliation by the survey teams. Later, the government with the help of these survey reports excluded the PTI’s voters from the list and added PML-N voters from other areas into it, he added. PTI Central Information Secretary Naeemul Haq when approached said his party will first inquire about the vote change and then will formally register complaint with ECP. “Our voters complained that their votes were shifted to another constituency all of a sudden. Majority of our supporters were not entrained by polling officers because their votes were transferred altogether to another area,” he said.

But ECP officials termed the claims of vote change as ‘lame excuses’ arguing the under Representative of Peoples’ Act (ROPA), vote transfer is unconstitutional and violation of electoral laws. They said the ECP would welcome and address the complaint if any voter turns out to register complaint in this regard. On the other hand, the Returning Officer of NA-122 and PP-147 yesterday formally announced final result of the by-elections. Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the returned candidate from the National Assembly constituency retained his seat with a slim margin of 2,441 votes.

Ayaz bagged 74,525 votes while his main rival Abdul Aleem Khan of PTI obtained 72,084 votes. PPP leader Barrister Amir Hassan could get 819 votes.

In PP-147, PTI Shoaib Siddiqui won by bagging 31,964 votes and his main rival, PML-N’s Mohsin Latif got 28,402 votes. PPP candidate Advocate Iftikhar Shahid could secure only 756 votes. In NA-122, the turnout was 43.10 percent as 149,885 votes were cast out of 347,762 registered voters of the constituency. The election staff at 284 polling stations of NA-122 rejected 1,858 votes for different reasons. A total of 16 candidates partook in the by-poll for this seat.

In PP-147, the turnout of voters was 44.42 percent as 62,534 voters exercised their right to vote out of 140,767 registered voters in the provincial constituency. The polling staff rejected 1,065 votes. Total 11 candidates contested the election. Returning Officer Zahid Iqbal told the reporters that he did not receive any complaint about rigging during the polling process. He appreciated the role of army and police personal for ensuring peaceful and smooth polling.