‘Free, Fair and Trans­par­ent?’

With mas­sive al­le­ga­tions of rig­ging re­ported from ma­jor con­stituen­cies and lack of a firm and as­sertive Elec­tion Com­mis­sioner, Elec­tions 2013 will be re­mem­bered for all the wrong rea­sons.

Southasia - - Cover Story Rigging - By Mu­nir Ishrat Rahmani

Elec­tion 2013 was a mixed plate: there was the more than usual rhetoric, tar­get killings of can­di­dates, bomb blasts, ex­plo­sions in pub­lic meet­ings, kid­nap­ping of a high pro­file can­di­date, con­tin­ued threats from the Tal­iban, a pinch of drama pro­vided by the fall from a plat­form of one of the top lead­ers, ren­der­ing him in­ca­pable of wind­ing up an ag­gres­sive elec­tion cam­paign, con­sid­er­able mis­man­age­ment at some of the polling sta­tions and al­le­ga­tions of ‘rig­ging’ com­bined with ag­i­ta­tion, boy­cott or ‘Dharna’ in ma­jor cities, to add spice to the whole show.

The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan (ECP) had con­ducted the last elec­tions in 2008 suc­cess­fully and this time had the ad­di­tional ad­van­tage of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy for con­duct­ing free and fair polls and com­pil­ing ac­cu­rate re­sults. The ECP, un­der the chair­man­ship of Jus­tice (Re­tired) Fakhrud­din G. Ebrahim, was ex­pected to make Elec­tion 2013 a great suc­cess and a land­mark event as it was be­ing held af­ter the com­ple­tion of a five-year term by a demo­crat­i­cally-elected govern­ment. The Com­mis­sion had the ser­vices of Rangers and Army at its dis­posal for as­sis­tance. Ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties pro­vided great mo­ti­va­tion through ag­gres­sive cam­paign­ing and peo­ple were urged to come out in large num­bers on May 11 to cast their vote de­spite Tal­iban threats of dis­rupt­ing the Elec­tions. Un­for­tu­nately, the ex­er­cise turned out to be a fi­asco in some ar­eas lead­ing to bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment and se­vere crit­i­cism from all cor­ners over the muchtrum­peted but rather mis­man­aged gen­eral elec­tions.

Those who had seen the pre­vi­ous elec­tions of 2008 be­ing con­ducted in a com­mend­able man­ner and with­out much hue and cry, de­spite the par­ties in power los­ing a large num­ber of seats, ex­pected a much im­proved per­for­mance from the Chief Elec­tion Com­mis­sioner and his team in 2013. He made re­peated pledges of con­duct- ing trans­par­ent elec­tions in a man­ner that would be re­mem­bered for years to come. He was right: the Elec­tions 2013 will cer­tainly be re­mem­bered but for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. The de­tailed plan­ning of the ex­er­cise, pro­vi­sion­ing of elec­tion equip­ment and train­ing of the staff des­ig­nated to con­duct vot­ing at polling sta­tions left a lot to be de­sired. The Army was avail­able on call but was not de­ployed at or near the polling sta­tions to en­sure non-in­ter­fer­ence by any un­de­sir­able ele­ments.

A large num­ber of com­plaints of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties from all prov­inces kept pour­ing in on the elec­tion day. The al­le­ga­tions of ‘rigged elec­tions’ voiced by the me­dia and po­lit­i­cal par­ties per­tained mainly to the ac­tual process of polling on May 11 but it was ob­served that the rig­ging had started much be­fore. It started when the Chief Elec­tion Com­mis­sioner suc­cumbed to the pres­sure of some po­lit­i­cal par­ties by short­cir­cuit­ing the process of gen­uine scru­tiny re­quired un­der ar­ti­cles 62 and 63 of the Con­sti­tu­tion. Many can­di­dates who did not meet the cri­te­ria were al­lowed to con­test the elec­tion.

There were other forms of ‘or­ga­nized rig­ging’ like the de­lim­i­ta­tion of con­stituen­cies in Karachi with­out the data­base of a fresh cen­sus. This was done even af­ter the is­suance of the elec­tion sched­ule! The or­der of the ECP did not meet the con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ment and it was viewed as a bi­ased de­ci­sion. An­other ex­am­ple of ‘rig­ging’ was the dis­en­fran­chise­ment of women in some ar­eas of Pak­istan. It was with the con­sent of the ECP that women were barred from vot­ing in cer­tain ar­eas of Swat, Malakand, Dir, Mian­wali, etc. This was also a bla­tant vi­o­la­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion. When an elec­tion com­mis­sion’s cred­i­bil­ity be­comes doubt­ful, then the en­tire process of elec­tion can never be ex­pected to be trans­par­ent, free and fair.

The ECP ap­peared to be quite weak in putting its de­ci­sions to prac­tice. Ei­ther the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion at var­i­ous

places did not fully co­op­er­ate with the ECP or it was its in­her­ent weak­ness that on May 11 it could not en­sure timely pro­vi­sion­ing of proper staff, polling para­pher­na­lia and fa­cil­i­ties for the vot­ers at the polling sta­tions in a num­ber of con­stituen­cies. There were many polling sta­tions in var­i­ous parts of the coun­try where polling could not start on time. Karachi suf­fered the most with con­stituen­cies where polling started only af­ter three to four hours of the sched­uled time. In one strange in­stance in NA-250, the can­di­date of Pak­istan Tehreek-e In­saaf him­self brought bal­lot boxes in his per­sonal car to the polling sta­tion and no­body from the ECP ques­tioned or checked this ir­reg­u­lar­ity at all! Per­haps, ‘rig­ging’ needed to be re-de­fined in the an­nals of the ECP.

Apart from the gen­eral mis­man­age­ment, the polling staff also did not per­form their as­signed task dili­gently and al­lowed ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in­side the polling sta­tions. Some party work­ers came for­ward with video record­ings of bo­gus votes be­ing cast in La­hore, Faisal­abad and Karachi but the ECP failed to take any ac­tion. Ja­maat-e-Is­lami and Mut­ta­heda Qaumi Move­ment were the first to protest against the ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties no­ticed at polling sta­tions in NA-250 and NA-246/248, con­stituen­cies, re­spec­tively. Pak­istan Tehreek-eIn­saaf raised its voice against rig­ging in many con­stituen­cies in the Pun­jab. They ac­cused Pak­istan Mus­lim League (Nawaz) of in­flu­enc­ing the polling through the pres­ence of unau­tho­rized per­sons in­side the polling sta­tions who were in­dulging in ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties. Sim­i­lar com­plaints were re­ported from in­te­rior Sindh, Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochis­tan. All par­ties cried foul.

The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion de­cided to or­der re-polling at the polling sta­tions where they thought the polling was dis­turbed and vot­ers had not been able to cast their votes due to time con­straints, ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties by some out­siders or late ar­rival of the polling staff and ma­te­ri­als. Re-polling was con­ducted on May 21 in the coun­try, ex­cept in Karachi where it was car­ried out on May 19. The polling in Karachi was con­ducted un­der strict se­cu­rity ar­range­ments pro­vided by the po­lice,

The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion de­cided to or­der re-polling at the polling sta­tions where they thought the polling was dis­turbed and vot­ers had not been able to cast their votes due to time con­straints, ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties by some out­siders or late ar­rival of the polling staff and ma­te­ri­als.

Rangers and the Army but the turnout re­mained just about 15 per­cent or so as against about 55 per­cent on May 11. The PPP, MQM and Ja­maat-e-Is­lami boy­cotted the re-polling in Karachi, de­spite the ef­forts of Tehreek-e-In­saaf to mo­ti­vate their vot­ers, thus ad­versely af­fect­ing the turnout. They had, how­ever, the con­so­la­tion of win­ning one national and two provin­cial assem­bly seats in the one-sided elec­tions. Af­ter all the chaos and drama that had con­sumed Karachi fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions of rig­ging, re-polling did lit­tle to en­hance PTI’s im­age.

With all said and done and set­ting the al­le­ga­tions of rig­ging aside, Elec­tion 2013 will be re­mem­bered for the sim­ple fact that out of the 86 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers, 55 to 57 per­cent came out on May 11 to ex­er­cise their right to vote. The ur­ban ar­eas saw long queues at polling sta­tions that in­cluded large num­bers of mo­ti­vated ‘debu­tants’ to the vot­ing process who had ei­ther just at­tained the age to be­come el­i­gi­ble to vote or be­longed to the ‘re­luc­tant elite’ that al­ways pre­ferred to stay at home and watch the elec­tions on tele­vi­sion. It sig­ni­fied po­lit­i­cal aware­ness and a def­i­nite change in the mind­set of the cit­i­zens who de­cided to come out of their com­fort zone in the hos­tile weather and de­fied threats of the Tal­iban to at­tain the sat­is­fac­tion of elect­ing their rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the as­sem­blies.

Com­plaints of rig­ging are of­ten heard in al­most all coun­tries that have a man­ual sys­tem of vot­ing and vote-count­ing. The whole ex­er­cise, how­ever, could have been bet­ter man­aged by the ECP had their team gone into the in­tri­cate de­tails of the polling process at all polling sta­tions and tied down the loose ends well in time. If re­quired, the ser­vices of National Data­base Regis­tra­tion Au­thor­ity (NADRA) could have been uti­lized for ver­i­fi­ca­tion of thumb im­pres­sions of the vot­ers, which was used at the time of cast­ing the vote. An­other use­ful fea­ture in­tro­duced this time was the pho­to­graph of the voter in the list to elim­i­nate the pos­si­bil­ity of cheat­ing. In ret­ro­spect, one felt that the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan needed a more dy­namic leader of the or­ga­ni­za­tion in view of the gi­gan­tic and sen­si­tive task of con­duct­ing elec­tions in a coun­try where cor­rup­tion is in­grained in the cul­ture and an absolutely un­bi­ased, as­sertive and firm ap­proach is re­quired to meet the chal­lenge.

Source: www.aljazeera.com

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