The tribunals comprising retired judges of lower judiciary were set up on June 3, 2013, with the hope that free from the burden of judicial work the judges would be able to decide petitions in four months, a deadline set for the first time in the electoral history of the country.
But the goal could not be achieved even after the tribunals, initially appointed for one year, continued to get extension after extension. The extended life of the tribunals will end on June 30 and the Election Commission of Pakistan will have to give another extension to them.
Though the number of petitions filed after the 2013 polls was more than those pertaining to the 2008 elections, the number of tribunals this time was comparatively less, which had surprised many.
After the 2008 elections, 31 tribunals were set up and 272 petitions were filed. After the 2013 polls, only 14 tribunals were set up and 411 petitions were filed.
At one stage, a proposal to double the number of tribunals was discussed but the suggestion was not approved.
The Representation of the People Act contains provisions about the manner of filing an election petition, contents of the petition, appointment of election tribunals, disposal of petitions by the tribunals and the appellate forum against decisions of the tribunals. But the law lacks a provision for action against the tribunals failing to decide the cases in time, particularly those granting adjournments beyond the period mentioned in the law.
According to a report compiled by the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), an NGO, eight cases were decided by the tribunals in May 2015, bringing the total number of decided cases to 385. Of them, 359 cases have been decided by the tribunals and 26 disposed of by the ECP.
Of the 385 cases, 155 petitions have been dismissed on technical grounds, implying that the merits of the petitions were not adjudicated on. They included the 26 petitions disposed of by the ECP.
Forty-nine petitions have been accepted, 25 dismissed due to non-prosecution, 31 dismissed as withdrawn and 123 dismissed after trial. The reasons for dismissal of two petitions are not known to the FAFEN due to non-availability of copies of the orders.
The current pace of tribunal proceedings has delayed decisions on 26 petitions beyond the legally-stipulated deadline of disposing them of within 120 days of receipt.
Most of the petitions were filed by losing candidates but three petitions were filed by voters. Independent candidates filed 99 petitions, followed by PML-N candidates who filed 66 petitions, including 12 against winning candidates of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and 14 against PPP candidates.
The PTI filed 58 petitions, including 43 against winning candidates of the PML-N and one against the PPP. The PPP candidates filed 50 petitions, including 19 against winning candidates of the PML-N and only one against a PTI candidate.
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