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Cruel law of evidence

May 21, 2013

IT is simply not enough to say that an occurrence does not appear to be the logical outcome of events in the build-up. Thus, proof must be furnished, to clearly show that this latest has been a particularly faulty election.

No election is completely free and transparent and election fraud is not unheard of in Pakistan. All votes are accompanied by ballot stuffing and rigging.

If this is true, which surely it could be, why has there been so much noise this time around? If truth be told, it is not easy to blame it wholly on the dreamy Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) followers, the group some of us are so wary of that they would rather have it contained here and now.

The PTI followers are new and may have been misled by their enthusiasm into believing that victory was theirs for the taking. The problem is the gap between what was seen in the run-up to the polls and in the results, (for whatever it is worth right now) as evidence against hard, cold facts yet to be fully revealed in all detail.

Errors and omissions are accepted. These are frankly just suspicions — as many suspicions are — and very much liable to be found baseless on closer scrutiny. That scrutiny cannot be carried out without complete and free access to the election record, which is taking a bit too long to collect. The sooner that data is available, the sooner it will be possible to dispel the impressions.

Election officials are never thrilled by the prospect of a few self-styled researchers probing their work. They are apparently out to make an example of an organisation of election observers which has admitted to having released the wrong figures about a few voting stations.

How it came about and the role the Election Commission of Pakistan’s polling scheme might have played in it is yet to be investigated. All that is known is that the observers’ group is faced with more than a dozen criminal cases in Punjab.

Deterrents apart, in time, when the full data is available, there will surely be proposals about how to better organise an election. Already there are bits of evidence available that call for greater care and transparency in future.

The 472 votes that Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was shown to have got at one station in a Rawalpindi constituency were reduced by 200 on recount. But obviously that was too small an incident for those who must always base their case on grand numbers and big percentages: 200 out of 472, about 42 per cent, is it?

On another plane, there was also evidence of a young boy who got 20,000 odd votes in a contest for a Punjab Assembly seat in Multan. Was he dead or alive, well or injured, could he be expected to return and be with them, his voters had absolutely no idea.

Ali Haider Gilani was taken away by armed men a couple of days before the vote. That is a story which has yet to take its place among the chronicles of forcible removal of political opponents, like the most infamous disappearances in the period just before the 1977 general election in the country.

These things always happen. These are things that must be ignored in the larger interest of the country and democracy, the dominant argument goes. Those who are confused by the huge difference between their informal (anecdotal, the fact-finders brusquely point out) evidence and the final numbers need not scratch any deeper.

The suggestions for a better system can wait. The cries for an order that actually facilitates and not discourages the search for evidence are to be drowned in the positives that the election has thrown up: an experienced, mature, chastened, even forward-looking leadership, stability of a huge mandate, continuation of democracy which can be gravely threatened by protest over a few ‘unexpected’ results — four, 10, at most 12 seats.

Pakistanis have just performed a huge democratic feat by helping an elected government on to a full term. They must now pledge complete, unconditional support to a new government with a huge mandate, and that commitment must rest on a total submission to the conduct of polls by the bureaucracy, overseen with so much ceremony by the ECP. Sound logic.

They can of course always analyse, and there is a lot to be assessed and analysed out there right now. It hurts no one’s national interest to discuss the ‘impossible’ return of the PPP to national politics, or to talk about the containment of the PTI.

Reduced to a vainly protesting cult from a grand alliance of electables in the span of few days, Imran Khan’s party has been behaving exactly as its opponents would have liked it to.

Waiting for directions from its leader from his hospital bed, it has failed to effectively fight the elitist, ‘burger party’ label that its detractors are so eager to paste on it and it has at times appeared to be undecided in its post-election stronghold of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The PTI’s Defence protests in Karachi and Lahore have failed to expand to the delight of its opponents. The party is dependent to a large extent on its allegations of election fraud, but the demonstrations its followers have held in the two cities had to be complemented by some noise created deep in the districts.

The much-hailed party structure created by the famous intra-party election was nowhere to be seen. This was an easy opportunity and was exploited by the PTI’s opponents as they explained the huge gap between the promise generated by Imran’s run-up and his delivery.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.