ISLAMABAD- In what seems to be giving more credence to the rigging allegations of the protesting leaders, a senior official of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday confirmed that services of experts from the private sector had been hired to print numbers on ballot papers for the 2013 general polls.

Talking to reporters after a meeting of the ECP held with Acting Chief Election Commissioner Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali in the chair, ECP Director General (Elections) Masood Malik said 34 experts from Urdu Bazaar and Lakshami Chowk in Lahore had been hired after a request was made by the provincial election commission to the Punjab government.

The ECP official said the decision was warranted by a huge number of ballot papers and paucity of time. He, however, said the services of these 34 persons had been placed at the disposal of Printing Corporation of Pakistan (PCP) and the job was done by them at the PCP facility and not at any private printing press. “We have complete record of the persons hired from the private sector for the task,” he added.

Information Technology Director General Khizar Aziz, Media Additional Director General Iftikhar Raja and Law Director Sheikh Muhammad Nawaz were also present on the occasion.

About the decision of magnetised ink fiasco, he said that under Section 33 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1976, production of computerised national identity cards was mandatory for voting, but thumbprint verification was not legally required.

When asked to explain the legal status of biometric verification, he said the system had been put in place on the directions of the Supreme Court. The ECP official insisted that magnetised ink had been used in the 2013 polls. He added the idea had been floated by National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and produced by Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR). He said the PCSIR had sent four specimens and one of them had been approved by Nadra.

The director general further said the ECP and the polling staff knew before the general polls that the ink had a life not exceeding six hours after opening, so two inkpads had been made available at each polling booth.

ECP Law Director Sheikh Muhammad Nawaz, answering a question, said the biometric verification system had been introduced as per the Supreme Court’s instructions and it was not a legal requirement. He said no election had been set aside on the basis of verification by any tribunal.

He said that of over 400 election petitions, only 76 were pending, which too were at advanced stage. He said petitions in such a large number had never been decided in such a short time in the country’s electoral history.

IT Director General Khizar Aziz dispelled the impression that the result-management system (RMS) had failed in the 2013 polls. He argued that forms 16 and 17 had been received from the returning officers (ROs) through the system and the computerised record was available with the commission. Asked why it had not been placed on the ECP’s website, an official said there was no such provision in the law.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government secretary who was present at the meeting sought more time for legislation to introduce biometric verification system in the upcoming LG polls.

According to a source, the KP secretary also said the province should be treated at par with the Punjab and Sindh and its delimitation carried out by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The source added work on a fact sheet, to be presented to the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms on Monday (September 29), had already been started.