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Electoral terrorism wins … for now

Published May 14, 2013 05:03pm


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Everything the media pundits said about Election 2013 being a watershed in Pakistan’s political history was, in retrospect, a load of donkey dung.

The people of Pakistan came out in more or less the same numbers, and voted pretty much the way they always have. The parties and candidates too used the same old tricks to cheat their way through an electoral victory. The independent monitors and the powerful Election Commission of Pakistan, watched blatant rigging in high-stake constituencies and turned their face away as they always do. And the majority party in the National Assembly is the one that was predicted to win 2013 election even before it lost to PPP in 2008.

Upsets? None, unless you are too sympathetic to PML (Q) and ANP, both of which could hold on to only one NA seat each. And too concerned with the more than expected majority of PML (N).

Rest everything went according to the old script: There was practically no polling in the Baloch-dominated areas of Balochistan, and in significantly low numbers elsewhere in the province, paving way for the second consecutive provincial assembly made up of unrepresentative and criminal elements. Pakhtunkhwa voters lived up to their reputation for craving wholesale change – they voted in the religious right, then nationalist left, and now the ‘Naya Pakistan’ of Imran Khan. Punjab stuck with PML (N), rural Sindh with PPP and urban Sindh with MQM, as they have done time and again. Election 2013 was also the coming out of a new party, PTI, that was expected to make room in the parliament by dislodging some incumbents, which it did.

Nothing dramatic came out of the elections, except complaints of rigging galore by political opponents and of gross mismanagement on the part of ECP. Political leaders have alleged foul play in every province, but let’s just focus on more serious charges backed by research and evidence. The Human Rights Commission said in its preliminary report that the May 11 elections had been rated by a majority of its observers as ‘the most poorly managed affair’. The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) observed that the situation in Karachi was so worrisome that ‘it was not clear if the results reflected the free will of voters’. And the citizens filled the social media space with video evidence of rigging, particularly in Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore, with clearly marked data on the place and timing of the incident. Some of these video clips were broadcasted by news TV channels and at least one of them showed rangers arresting and taking away men accused of stuffing bogus votes.

It was a bit of shock then to hear the chief election commissioner, and then the commission’s secretary, congratulate the nation on the ‘successful holding of transparent elections’ and pat themselves on the back for a job well done. This despite the fact that the chief had only a few hours ago, accepted the fact that the commission had ‘failed to ensure fairness in Karachi’ and had enough evidence of criminal activity and some idea of who the criminals were. Explaining the delay in polling for Karachi’s NA 250 constituency, the chief volunteered information that the staff at several polling stations had been kidnapped and so ECP had to first trace them and then get them released … So, they know who the kidnappers were.

The complaints of mass electoral fraud may be limited to a few constituencies and their polling stations, but it does put a question mark on the integrity of all the leaders we have just elected. It is a matter of utmost seriousness for all voters to be assured that their mandate hasn’t been stolen. What ECP has done so far, falls way short. If anything, the self-congratulatory messages coming from the commission are adding to the confusion and frustration of the voter. This election saw a lot of public awareness of rights and duties as citizens, and the vote was generally accepted as the only viable means for a genuine change. Whatever the final turnout figure, it was a healthy showing and included millions of first time voters. The passion they brought to the ballot box has within 48 hours turned into anger at being robbed by the vote keepers. NA 250 was only the flashpoint, now several areas in Karachi, interior Sindh and Lahore are seeing violent protests by disillusioned voters.

ECP’s dilemma is this: election rigging is being blamed on parties that have won heavily in their area of influence – MQM, PPP and PML (N) – which is not to say smaller parties are any cleaner. If the commission takes up one case, it’ll open a floodgate of complaints. There is plenty of evidence in the public sphere to prove mainstream political parties’ involvement in criminal vote rigging, and then what? A toothless commission that Justice (R) F.G. Ibrahim heads is finding itself incapable of investigating fraud, let alone punishing individuals, candidates, and party leaders proved guilty.

So, here is the potential watershed in the political history of Pakistan. The ECP can deal with this gathering storm by closing its eyes and hoping the worst would’ve been over when they open them. It has worked till last elections. Or it can interrogate witnesses and suspects, including government officials deputed at polling stations, with the objective to catch the sharks who planned, financed, executed and assisted electoral fraud, and then hand out punishments commensurate with the enormity of the crime – stealing the will of the people. That has never been done before.

A caretaker government and an independent election commission are neutral institutions and therefore best placed to prosecute poll fraudsters. Or they can put a few worker bees in jail, order a re-election and be done with it. This country’s voter stared terrorism in the face and went out to vote. They have discharged their responsibility remarkably well. It is now ECP’s turn to have a spine, to show courage. Whether or not ECP can do the right thing, will decide whether or not this country’s voters will show faith in electoral process, and indeed in democracy, for a long time to come.


Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at



The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (20) Closed

Raja Islam May 15, 2013 01:51pm
Why compare everything with India. Seems like our nation is obsessed with India. Worry about your own problems and fix them. This is not a competition about who is the bigger crook.
Raja Islam May 15, 2013 01:52pm
Competent or not, who will ensure the safety of the ECP officials? They need personal protection from the people and parties who indulged in rigging. This problem is a bigger one than what the ECP can handle. The army needs to be called out to fix the extortionists and criminals.
Naeem Syed May 14, 2013 02:04pm
Delighted to read such an honest opinion. These word are the pin pricks that are meant to wake up us up to the fact of what we really are and what we need to do to change ourselves. WELL DONE
Iftikhar Ali May 15, 2013 06:42pm
If we need to add credibility to the elections, the people's protest against rigging must be answered..! In the end this excercise will be good for the future of Pakistan.
Rehmat Ali May 14, 2013 05:33pm
Are you sure?
aabdul May 15, 2013 04:16am
Kudos to Pakistanis for braving terrorists to vote. Pakistan now stands as the bravest nation on the planet. Soon Pakistan will become self reliant and strong. Soon after that Pakistan will compete with China and India to go to the mMoon and beyond.....Zaid Hamid prophesy is coming true.
Kdspirited May 14, 2013 05:28pm
The infant democratic process in our country is at stake here. If someone is not punished people will accept this as status quo and never turn out to vote again
ivehadit May 14, 2013 05:11pm
Sounds like sour grapes.
Farhan May 15, 2013 10:55am
Finally someone calling out the ECP as the incompetent body that it is.
Ahmad May 15, 2013 01:53am
Except for MQM's rigging in Karachi, and a few other constituencies across the country, elections by and large were actually pretty well done. Not perfect but still a vast improvement. This is a positive step.
Muhammad Ahmed Mufti May 14, 2013 07:54pm
When it comes to elections, situation in India is no different
Parvez May 14, 2013 07:46pm
The best overall view of the elections and what it means for the people.
Syed May 15, 2013 12:10am
System needs be changed.
Erum Khan May 14, 2013 11:46pm
It is funny that Islamabad based writer is writing blog elections is Karachi.
Tariq May 15, 2013 01:25pm
Why have a spineless "ECP body" if it cannot discharge it's duty in fair and lawful manner? In Pakistan the laws' exist but the WILL of the appointed institutions to implement them is not existent.
Parvin May 14, 2013 12:26pm
But isn't this Pakistan? Where dishonesty is deep rooted in our blood and veins. There is no known detergent that can cleanse it - not even our Islamic religion.
Duaa May 14, 2013 04:08pm
thankyou for writing this.
Akram May 15, 2013 10:06am
excellent article, and its true that ECP should show spine and not just be fair, they must be seen to be fair.
M Rafique May 15, 2013 07:18am
You believe it
Mr. Wright May 15, 2013 09:56am
Sorry, but when it comes to Islam there is a definite way, you want proofs then look to Americans who are reverting ...