KARACHI–The Sindh High Court on Tuesday suspended the operation of an order of the Election Commission of Pakistan that transferred an election petition against the victory of Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah over a provincial seat from the Karachi election tribunal to the Hyderabad election tribunal.
The bench also issued a notice to the chief election commissioner, the ECP secretary, the chief minister, and the presiding officer of the Hyderabad election tribunal to file their respective comments by April 7 when the court would again take up the matter.
The CM had won the provincial assembly seat PS-29 in the 2013 general elections. His victory was challenged through an election petition filed by Syed Ghous Ali Shah, the rival candidate belonging to the PML-N, who emerged runner-up.
The PML-N candidate alleged massive irregularities in the elections and sought the chief minister’s disqualification. The election petition was filed initially at the Sukkur election tribunal headed by Zaheeruddin Leghari.
However, it was later transferred to the Karachi election tribunal presided over by Judge Zafar Ahmed Khan Sherwani, on the application of the chief minister, who alleged that the presiding officer of the Sukkur election tribunal was biased.
Expressing no-confidence in the head of the tribunal, he said that Mr Leghari was “biased” for being a mureed (disciple) of the Pir Pagara, the chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, an ally of the PML-N.
While the Karachi election tribunal had almost completed the proceedings of the election appeal, the chief minister once again expressed no-confidence in the presiding officer and petitioned the SHC against Judge Sherwani. However, the CM’s plea was thrown out.
Later, the CM moved another application in the ECP seeking transfer of the election petition against him to any other tribunal in the province. But Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Mohammed Raza dismissed his questioning the credentials of the presiding officer.
The CM assailed the rejection of his transfer application by the ECP through a constitutional petition in the SHC that on Feb 21 ordered the ECP to revisit within 20 days its verdict of dismissing the CM’s plea seeking transfer of the election petition against him from the Karachi election tribunal.
On March 5, the ECP extended the tenure of eight election tribunals across the country. But, tenure of Judge Sherwani was not extended.
According to the counsel for the chief minister, Advocate Farooq H. Naek, Judge Sherwani, the presiding officer of the election tribunal who was a former judge of the SHC, was not impartial and had bias against his client. He said the chief minister had filed an application under Section 58 of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1976, before the ECP, requesting it to transfer the election petition from the Karachi election tribunal to any other tribunal, but it was rejected.
Subsequently, the ECP revisited its decision following the direction of the SHC when it was approached by the chief minister.
In his fresh petition against the ECP order, Syed Ghous Ali Shah, represented by Advocate Aslam Bhutta, said that the chief election commissioner passed an order on the CM’s application on March 3, transferring the election petition against his victory to the Hyderabad election tribunal.
The counsel alleged that Mohammed Ashfaq Balouch, the presiding officer of the Hyderabad election tribunal, who had also served as district and sessions judge in Khairpur district, had a close relationship with the chief minister, adding that the presiding officer and his relatives were staunch supporters of the Pakistan People’s Party.
He said that the Karachi election tribunal had already reserved its judgement on the election petition after recording evidence and statements.
He stated that the presiding officer was biased against his client and party, and therefore, he pleaded to the court to set aside the ECP’s transfer order.
The counsel further asked the court to suspend the ECP notification whereby it extended the working period of all tribunals except the Karachi election tribunal from March 1 to April 30.
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