ISLAMABAD: Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday notified Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) as returned to the Senate of Pakistan, rejecting Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) plea to stop his notification on alleged corrupt practices in March 3 Senate polls.

Besides Gilani, who emerged victorious on a general seat from Islamabad, the ECP also notified Fawzia Arshad of PTI as returned to the Senate on seat reserved for women from federal capital.

“In pursuance of Section 124 of the Elections Act 2017 and all other powers enabling it in that behalf, the Election Commission hereby publishes the names of the following candidates [Gilani and Fawzia] returned to the Senate of Pakistan against one general seat and one seat for the category of women [respectively] from Federal Capital or place of the members whose term will expire on 11 March, 2021 under clause (3) of Article 59 of the Constitution,” said the ECP notification.

A four-member committee of the ECP headed by its member from Punjab Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi earlier in the day had reserved its verdict on the matter after hearing arguments from the counsel of the PTI.

The committee announced its decision and rejected the ruling party’s plea to stop notification of Gilani and consequently issued his notification as returned candidate to the Senate of Pakistan.

The ECP, however, admitted for hearing a plea regarding a set of recordings that purportedly show Gilani’s son, Ali Haider Gilani, advising lawmakers how to waste their votes.

The ECP set March 22 for hearing on the PTI’s application and also issued notices to Gilani and his son Ali Haider Gilani to appear before the committee.

During the hearing, member ECP Irshad Qaiser remarked that PTI had been directed to nominate those of its members who are allegedly featured in the video.

In his arguments, PTI’s counsel Barrister Ali Zafar said an affidavit from the person who made the video had been attached with a fresh application along with the transcript.

He informed the ECP that the PTI did not want to make the lawmakers who he identified as Jamil Ahmed and Fahim Khan seen in the video as respondents in the case.

Upon this, ECP member Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi questioned how it could be proved. The counsel then submitted affidavits from the two lawmakers, saying “both of them have accepted it in the affidavits.”

The ECP reminded PTI’s counsel that it had directed that an amended petition be filed in which the two PTI lawmakers be made respondents.

However, the PTI counsel reiterated that the party did not want to make the two lawmakers as respondents in the case, saying they had not “accepted the offer in the video.” The ECP member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Irshad Qaiser observed that the affidavit submitted by the lawmakers did not have the stamp from the commissioner. The PTI counsel responded that the commission could hold an inquiry if it suspected the affidavits were false.

He also informed the ECP that the people who had made the video wanted to appear as witnesses in the case.

Another ECP member, Altaf Ibrahim Qureshi said those who gave the bribe and the ones who took it are equal before the law and both the parties need to be heard.

“It is the beauty of democracy that the ballot is kept secret,” the ECP member remarked. To this, the PTI’s counsel said, “We are so disturbed by this beauty that we are coming here again and again.” Qureshi questioned whether those who took bribes were witnesses or suspects? In his response, Zafar stated that the PTI does not hold the lawmakers who appeared in the video as suspects. He maintained that the PTI’s case was “proof of the offer of bribery”. However, it could not be termed a “sting operation”, he added.

To this, ECP member Qaiser referred to the Supreme Court’s past judgments and remarked in light of the apex court’s previous judgments the video itself is not a “complete proof”.

PTI’s Barrister Malika Bukhari claimed that Ali Gilani had talked about giving packages to MNAs in which Rs100 million would be given for development purposes while Rs50 million to Rs60 million would be given separately.

ECP’s Qaiser questioned whether the two PTI lawmakers had accepted the offer. To this, the PTI’s counsel further claimed that offers were made to both of them, adding that the two are ready to appear before the ECP.

Zafar also referred to a past case in the Supreme Court, saying during hearing a case against former premier Benazir Bhutto, an audio recording had emerged and the apex court had declared the decision illegal after the video was not rejected.

Additionally, he added that Yusuf Raza Gilani has also not rejected the video, saying: “When Yusuf Raza Gilani has not refuted the video, how can the commission reject it?” he asked.

He said the ECP had taken a decision on the Daska by-poll after watching footage on television to which the ECP member Qaiser responded that the ECP was a neutral body and also told the PTI counsel in Daska case the word of the returning officer and district returning officer had been considered as proof.

Qureshi said the ECP had not declared any video as wrong and also assured the PTI’s counsel that the ECP would analyze the video.

On PTI’s plea to stop Gilani’s notification, Qureshi said that the ECP had received a lot of petitions to stop notifications of different candidates. “Should we stop notifications of all the senators-elect?” he asked.

During the hearing, the PTI also submitted a video of former premier Raja Pervez Ashraf of PPP in which according to the PTI counsel Raja had allegedly claimed that people had taken money in advance from him for voting in the Senate polls.

He also submitted a video of former president Asif Ali Zardari in which Zafar alleged that Zardari had asked why there was only a difference of five votes between Gilani and PTI’s Hafeez Shaikh.

After the ECP issued its verdict on the case, the PTI claimed victory saying the ECP had accepted the first part of its petition, which was related to the Ali Haider Gilani video and insisted that Gilani had lost the moral grounds to contest for the slot of Chairman Senate on March 12. “If you [Gilani] and your son are issued notices and you are asked to explain whether you used corrupt practices and stole votes, you have lost the ethical grounds to contest Senate chairman election,” said PTI’s Malika Bokhari told media persons.

She asked Gilani to separate himself from the race, adding that he no longer had any “moral justification” to contest the elections for Senate chairmanship.

PTI’s Farrukh Habib said that the ECP had seen Ali Haider Gilani’s video and issued notices relating to it. “This means the ECP has seen our evidence and there is credibility in them,” he claimed. Meanwhile, the ECP issued victory notifications of all 48 senators-elect, which also included PTI’s Faisal Vawda. The ECP also rejected a PML-N’s plea to stop Vawda’s notification on the grounds of submitting an alleged “false” affidavit about his alleged dual nationality with the election body. Vawda was also directed to appear again and submit his answers to the ECP in the next hearing on March 18.