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The ECP and rigged elections


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THE campaigning in the run-up to Saturday and the voting on election day were generally orderly but allegations of rigging were aplenty as the results poured in.

To an extent, the complaints may be due to the misplaced confidence of the defeated party but the clamour is loud enough to call for an impartial inquiry. The admirers of retired Justice Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim — this writer being one of them — must feel quite hurt that such widespread charges should have arisen with a man of his reputation as the chief election commissioner.

He and his colleagues on the commission — all retired judges — were chosen by the president on the recommendation of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, and approved by a parliamentary committee in which the treasury and opposition were both represented. There could hardly have been any other safeguard to ensure the non-partisan character of the commission.

Yet rigging could have taken place, and has perhaps, and the five ageing, retired judges could do little to prevent the tampering with the ballot at thousands of polling stations across the country. They could not have done much. The confidence reposed by the politicians and the people in the commission to organise fair and transparent polls was wholly misplaced.

The undeniable reality is that polls are conducted and supervised by a hierarchy of executive officials ranging from teachers and constables to the chief secretary and the inspector general of the police. In no way do these officials feel answerable to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) which has seldom detected or punished an official for defying its rules. It has not the means to do it.

Reshuffling the officials at the top or even in the middle tier on the eve of elections hardly makes any difference to the polls being fair, because the integrity or political neutrality of officials is hardly a criterion in the reshuffle.

It is just replacing one with another. Woefully, the standards both of personal ethics and commitment to a code of conduct among the officials have been steadily declining because the principle of merit has been progressively abandoned in their recruitment, placement and promotion.

That process, started by Ayub Khan in an innocuous manner, has now become a rule. But it is a tribute to the late field marshal and the values of his time that the young subalterns then inducted in the superior civil service were judged by the army’s own rigorous criteria.

Most of them did credit to the service rather than detract from the standards set by the competitors. Nevertheless, a breach was caused which in the course of time has blurred the line between the independence of the civil servants and their indebtedness to elements outside their ranks — whether politicians or generals.

The point to be emphasised here is that while the ECP must necessarily be independent and meritorious, more crucial to fair elections is the neutrality of the civil service — the police and paramilitary forces included.

It took decades for civil servants, as a national entity, to lose their neutrality but, given the political will, it can still be restored in a much shorter time if parliament and the provincial assemblies agree to amend the Constitution to provide that all inductions in public service at the senior level, say, grade 16 and above, will be through an open competitive system with no room for nomination. For the backward classes and areas some legitimate concessions can be built into the system itself.

Historically, a tragic misfortune is attached to fair elections in Pakistan. The eastern wing of the country broke away in 1971 when the military junta, supported by some impatient politicians of West Pakistan, refused to convene parliament as East Pakistan was expected to claim the prime ministerial post and also vote for autonomy that was greater than the generals and politicians alike were prepared to concede.

The result of the 1970 elections, indeed, took the country by surprise but the tragedy that followed could have been averted in the course of time only through another equally fair election.

This writer was the district magistrate of Karachi at that fateful time. The then chief election commissioner, Justice Abdus Sattar who hailed from East Pakistan, came to Karachi but once. Gen Rakhman Gul was the governor and S. Manzur Elahi chief secretary — both cool-headed, honest men. Against them and the officials down the line there was not even the whiff of a complaint. That was the last glow of fair elections in Pakistan. The surviving half of the country has not seen the likes of them again.

Incidentally, one fails to see the need for caretaker cabinets during the election period when no policy decisions are to be made. Amusingly, while Punjab was content with seven ministers, Sindh chose to appoint 20. Even if they did not, or could not, influence the polls much, they burdened the exchequer with a wholly avoidable expense.

The writer is a retired civil servant.

Comments (13) Closed

Usman May 16, 2013 11:50pm
Rigging has 'perhaps' taken place? There are many videos and testimonies of this, let alone all the rigging that couldn't be documented or captured on video.
Zupta May 17, 2013 11:20pm
I hope those who matter also read your article and do something about it. May be next time we will have better managed elections if they try and correct flaws observed in last elections.
khan May 17, 2013 08:45am
a very good article indeed but let me add this time around DROs and ROs were from judiciary and presiding officers were from executive mainly education department .So without questioning their integrity one finds out mismanagement due to their lack of management experience .may be in the times to come we may look into this aspect in future along with integrity . however having said that civil servants can,t shy away from their responsibility being executive heads at various level and points given in the article for their impartiality are hold good
Fazal Karim May 17, 2013 05:17am
Inquiry at highest level should be carried and persons filled boxes with bogus votes should be pointed out with the help of NADRA. Presiding officers who failed in their duty should be punished. Let inquiry take one year or more. This will help in holding fair and free elections in future.
Ahmad Zubairi May 16, 2013 04:00pm
In Pakistan we have rampant corruption, lack of discipline, we don't stop on traffic lights, we hear rampant cheating in exams, extensive nepotism, why then all of a sudden we believe everyone will drop this pattern and have an absolutely fair election. I don't expect absolutely fair elections until we become law abiding fair nation. What is needed though is use of technology and system to make elections fair. Check thumbprints throw out fake votes and you have a fairer election. People don't become fair on their own we have to devise a fair system and apply it so next time people will know that only genuine votes will count. I believe result of a fairer election will be same Nawaz league will still win but people will believe in democracy more and next time more voters will turn to pol.
Zee May 16, 2013 04:11pm
Respectfully, I disagree. The writer has absolved the ECP and its chariman of all responsibility of this woeful election. When these experienced judges took the job were they not aware of the rigged system that the writer explains? What did they do about it? Nothing. Moreover the due process for forming the EC commission was not followed and that has been accepted by the parties. PMLN and PPP know how to manipulate the elections and chose these respectful but aged judges because they knew they would not be able to shake the system. How come the elections in 2008 were a lot fairer under a so-called dictator but completely rigged under an "elected" government? Dr. Tahir Quadri is right.
Emm May 17, 2013 01:28am
Did the army really play its proper role in these elections? Just look at what happened in Karachi ---- rigging galore and no army in sight. People forced not to vote and no army in sight. Why?
Akram May 17, 2013 03:11pm
the ECP has partially failed to ensure a proper process that would check fraudulent voting, they can improve the status quo by staggering elections thus ensuring all polling stations are guarded, and secured and stopping people breaking elections rules by asking voters to vote one way or the other not just outside but also inside the polling stations. finger printing suspicious ballots against NADRA records can show fraudulent votes and the fraudsters must get an exemplary punishment, what they have attempted to do is cheat the nation. They should be banned from any political activity, pay fines and go to jail. The same goes for candidates involved in such antics.
zahid ali May 16, 2013 12:29pm
sir, wonderful, I appreciate the effort, loyalty n patriotisms
Syed May 17, 2013 01:24am
What Fakhruddin could do when the society by and large is corrupt??
alhah wasaaiee May 16, 2013 12:07pm
thanks great article
FR May 17, 2013 07:06pm
Why don't you clearly agree that the entire govt. machinery as well as the nation is corrupt. May be because you are/were part of both.
FS May 16, 2013 02:45pm
Good points made in regards to the ECP. You are correct that just by appointing an upright management team will not deliver a clean election. Actually what we need is a team of doers and not people over retirement age to manage such an important and complex task. Pakistan is one of the largest democracies in the world and managing its election is no mean task by any standards. You need strong tools, processes, skilled manpower, investment in technology and finally a highly workable security plan to make it into a success. What I don't understand is that why for months the ECP was sitting on its head while it could have recruited people with skills in the above areas (and I am sure many would volunteer and you can find all skills domestically) and even perhaps consultants to help them develop a fool proof plan for execution. E.g. what happened in NA 250 or others is unforgivable and if ECP was a for profit entity it would have gone bankrupt under this kind of leadership. Execution is everything and intent is nothing.