FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 14

Election rigging allegations need to be judicially probed

The February 8 polls will go down as the most controversial election in the history of Pakistan. There is a farrago of allegations from various political parties about irregularities, rigging and manipulation both at the polling and results compilation stages. Both the winners and losers seem aggrieved and are asking for forensic audit of the poll results.

The real picture will emerge after investigations into the matter by a judicial commission but there is substantial circumstantial evidence to suggest that the electoral process was not completely fair and above board. The way a particular party – PTI – was denied a level playing field raised many eyebrows. The party’s electoral symbol was taken away and its candidates were arrested, abducted and harassed in various ways to prevent them from filing their nomination papers. PTI candidates were also not allowed to hold rallies and meetings to mobilise their supporters.

On the polling day mobile networks were suspended and the internet too was blocked in many parts of the country which created problems for voters who had difficulty in communicating with the Election Commission staff to locate the polling stations where their votes were registered. As a result, many voters could not cast their votes in favour of their chosen candidates.

After the polling was over, initial results according to Form 45 began to be announced over TV channels. But after a couple of hours the process came to a sudden halt and the pace of the result announcement slowed down. What raised public suspicion about foul play behind the scenes was the fact that many PTI-backed candidates who were leading in the early vote count began to lose in the final tally as per Form 47. What further strengthened doubt in the matter was that the final results which were supposed to be announced soon after midnight were inordinately delayed. Curiously, none of the 859 returning officers was able to announce the provisional results of his respective constituency by the deadline of 2 am the following day, in accordance with Section 13(3) of the Elections Act, 2017. The voting trend and initial results from Punjab and KP indicated a total rout of the PML-N candidates. But many of the PML-N heavyweights who were lagging far behind PTI-affiliated candidates till late night were declared the winners the next morning.

Naturally, the PTI-backed independents raised a hue and cry alleging that the results were being tampered with in favour of their rivals. PTI candidates and independents in Punjab, GDA in Sindh and BNP in Balochistan have held mass rallies to register their protest against what they term open vote fraud. The real bombshell came last week when the Commissioner PIndi Division publicly admitted vote rigging and offered himself for prosecution for stealing votes from one candidate to favour another. He held a press conference at which he expressed regret over facilitating the rigging of election results and asked to be punished while also holding the respective heads of the judiciary and ECP responsible for “the theft of the people’s mandate”.

He also said that, on his orders, candidates who were winning with large margins in the constituencies of the Rawalpindi division were made to lose, while the losing candidates were declared victorious. To quote him, “I am taking responsibility for this wrongdoing and telling you that the chief election commissioner and the chief justice are also completely involved. Coming from a senior officer, the ‘confession’ has jolted the whole country and lent credence to the charges of large scale election stealing earlier hurled by aggrieved candidates across the four provinces.

No wonder, the Election Commission is being held responsible for all that has gone wrong with the Feb 8 elections. From the beginning, the conduct of the Commission has been in question and it has been accused of not discharging its duty in an efficient, fair and impartial manner and discriminating against a particular political group.

Post-election, the country is in a state of crisis. And for this no one else is to blame. There is a split mandate with no single party securing a simple majority. The PTI claims that it secured a majority of seats bit its mandate was stolen. On the other hand, the two mainstream parties, PML-N and PPP, together do not have the required number of seats in the National Assembly to form a government.

In its 75 years history the country has never faced such a dilemma. The whole nation is in a state of tension and mental agitation. The large-scale poll irregularities have also drawn the attention of the international community. The US, UK, and the European Union have expressed concerns about Pakistan’s electoral process and urged a probe into the reported irregularities. The UN secretary general has also called on the Pakistani authorities to resolve the issues related to the election through the established legal frameworks.

The only way out of the present impasse is to have the entire electoral process from beginning to end thoroughly probed by a high powered judicial commission so that any wrongs done at any stage are righted and popular mandate is honoured. This is the only way to restore the people’s faith in the system and redeem national honour.