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Rigging concerns What ECP should do

May 28, 2013

TWO weeks after the general elections, allegations of rigging from various quarters refuse to die down. Some politicians have held aloft ‘ballot papers’ on TV while others have uncovered them from garbage dumps — papers that are meant to be in the ECP’s possession. Meanwhile, poll monitors have asked the ECP to publicly release detailed election data. Perhaps the best way to address these valid concerns is for the ECP to upload the various forms that serve as documentary evidence of the polling process on its website. These include Form XIV (Statement of count), detailing how many votes were cast at each polling station, and Form XV (Ballot paper account), which lists how many ballot papers were used. Making the forms public will allow for an objective evaluation of what might have gone wrong at a particular polling station, helping to determine if erroneous data was entered and if it was due to a mistake or otherwise. The various forms can be reconciled with each other. For example, claims of stuffing and rigging can be addressed if the number of votes polled at a certain station is cross-checked with the number of ballot papers issued. The ECP can order re-polling if discrepancies are found.

The electoral process on May 11 was largely fair and the ECP did improve on previous elections. Yet bugs remain in the system and allegations of irregularities and rigging need to be addressed. There are more long-term issues which need the ECP’s attention. For example, reports have emerged that polling staff at some stations was not properly trained. Admittedly, the training of tens of thousands of individuals deputed at nearly 70,000 polling stations across Pakistan is a mammoth task. But elections are an ongoing process and that is why training of polling staff should be undertaken periodically by the ECP so that the training process is not rushed through a couple of months before an election. Another issue that requires attention is the fact that some polling stations were changed at the eleventh hour, which added to the voters’ confusion.

Better management of the electoral process and capacity building of electoral staff is essential for the conduct of credible polls. People need to be taken into confidence by the ECP that should release the detailed election data while corrective measures need to be taken now for better elections next time. Only if such irregularities are meaningfully addressed can there be hope of a better-managed election in future.