ISLAMABAD - The three-member vote probe commission, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Nasirul Mulk, has warned media and political parties against issuing statements and making such comments as could affect the process.

The inquiry commission, probing the allegations of rigging in 2013 general elections, held its fifth session with the representatives of political parties. Setting out the modalities for further proceedings, the commission decided to start examining the evidences as well as record the statements of PTI witnesses from May 5. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz counsel will cross-examine the PTI witnesses.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in this reply submitted to the commission said that the onus to prove any allegation cannot be placed entirely on any political party or person, urging the commission to use its mandate and powers to dig out concrete evidence of rigging. Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid urged the commission to seek the services of investigating agencies that are not under direct control of political administration.

The commission cautioned both the media and political parties that if its directions, given on the first session, would not be followed then it may hold in-camera hearings. The media was told that the coverage should not be bias, there should be no discussions on the merit of the case, and the reporting should be of facts and no such comments should be made as could harm the process. The chief justice said that there is lot of debate in media and even judgments are passed. He said: “Not only media but the political parties are trying to hamper the proceedings.”

The PML-Q, in reply to the questionnaire, submitted two separate lists of witnesses. The first one carried names of PML-Q leaders, including Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Ch Pervez Elahi, who would be produced before the commission to confirm the averments made in the proposal.

In the second list the PML-Q urged the inquiry commission to summon director generals of Inter Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence, registrars of Supreme Court and Lahore High Court, incumbent secretary of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), ECP ex-secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed, former Election Commissioner (EC) Fakharuddin G Ibrahim, ex-EC Hamid Ali Mirza, Fafen chairman, and some journalists.

It also asked the commission to seek the services of investigating agencies that are not under direct control of political administration to collect further corroborative evidence in this behalf to promote certainty as to who were involved in preparing the Returning Officers based rigging, conspiracy/design.

The sources shared with The Nation that the commission has made it clear that if any party will present evidences of alleged rigging in particular constituencies then notices will also be issued to return candidates concerned. They said the commission has also asked Pakistan Peoples Party counsel Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan to formally file an application regarding the inspection of polling bags in 70 constituencies, to find out the pattern of rigging in the elections 2013. PTI, Muhajir Qaumi Movement and Jamaat-e-Islami also filed the replies to the questionnaire.

The PTI, which has been claiming of having evidence of rigging in the general elections 2013, now wants the commission to dig out the concrete evidence. Its reply stated that the onus to prove any allegation cannot be placed entirely on any political party or person raising the same before the commission.

“There may be an onus on a political party to establish a prima facie basis for its allegations after which it is the commission which exercising its powers of investigation and inquiry and exercising... inquisitorial role has to ascertain the truth with assistance, to the extent from the political party in question,” it submitted.

It said that the ECP and PML-N have control and custody of all the relevant public records and documents, which can only be summoned through the orders of the commission. It submitted that the PML-N wanted to win the elections at any cost. The heavy concentration of the plan was to illegally ‘sweep’ the Punjab and Balochistan to secure its rule for next five years. The reply also said the witnesses, suggested by PTI, are not its witnesses. The commission was urged to summon them.

The PTI said that the inquiry commission, under statutory duty to perform its functions, conduct inquiry and submit its final report in accordance with Section 3(a) to 3(c) of the Ordinance. The reply said the PTI is in opposition in National Assembly and the Provincial Assembly of Punjab therefore it does not and cannot have direct access to all the material and evidence relevant to the three questions asked in the commission questionnaire, adding there is sufficient evidence, which has been indicated and identified and also already produced.

“It is now for the commission to undertake inquiry to answer the questions in Section 3 of the Ordinance… The role of PTI and all other political parties, raising allegation of rigging in elections 2013, cannot and ought not be construed or treated as ‘prosecutor’, as this was neither the intent of the PTI nor consistent with scheme of Ordinance.”

It submitted that the onus for furnishing of evidence and material cannot be shifted to PTI and other political parties. The PTI also intends to rely on the further evidence and material that will come before the commission as its proceedings progress. It submitted that the architects of the plan were obviously the beneficiaries thereof, which is the PML-N, its supporters, accomplices, associates and cohorts, adding the other political parties and persons may also have been part of this ‘plan and or design.’ The PTI also reserves the right to rely upon and refer to relevant material and evidence that may be placed on record or brought by any other political party or person before the commission, it added.

Advocate Latif Afridi, appearing on behalf of Awami National Party, informed the commission that suicide attack and killing of its leaders before elections also fall in the ambit of pre-polls rigging. He said Hakimullah Mahsud openly declared jihad against ANP, adding through media the ANP workers were harassed. The proceeding was adjourned until Tuesday.