PAKISTAN Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leaders have repeatedly claimed there was “massive rigging” in the 2013 elections. Let’s examine the veracity of that claim.
Imran Khan’s allegations have maligned then Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) chief, retired Justice Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, former chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry, and the caretaker set-up at the time, because he maintains that they, together with Nawaz Sharif, snatched the last election from him.
According to the ‘principles of electoral swing’, only a small percentage of voters, ie 3-5pc, that traditionally vote for Party A, vote for Party B which gives the latter a lead of 6-10 percentage points, while the remaining disillusioned voters tend to abstain from voting altogether.
The poll outcome was in fact in consonance with statistical models projecting final results. Although the PTI manifesto appealed to urban youth, it was folly to believe it could sweep urban Punjab — the PML-N’s heartland where the party has won an overwhelming number of votes during earlier elections.
In rural Punjab, the PPP’s poor performance during the last five years and PML-N’s incumbency combined to help the latter at the hustings.
The ECP took several measures to ensure poll transparency.
Article 218 of the Constitution devolves the responsibility of holding free and fair elections on the ECP, which “shall consist of Commissioner who shall be the Chairman of the Commission; and four members, each of whom has been a Judge of a High Court from each Province”.
In July 2012, parliament unanimously approved Mr Ebrahim as chief election commissioner (CEC). Under his leadership, the electoral body took several important measures to ensure electoral transparency.
The National Judicial Policy Forum headed by Pakistan’s then chief justice, in response to appeals from the CEC and political parties, placed 900 judicial officers, including sessions, additional sessions and civil judges at the ECP’s disposal to perform their duties as returning officers (RO).
This was done reluctantly because the Judicial Policy 2009, in order to reinforce its separation from the executive, had laid down that the judiciary was to play no role in the electoral process.
The ECP’s efforts resulted in the development of an elaborate Computerised Electoral Rolls System; electoral rolls were printed with voters’ photographs and CNIC numbers; magnetised ink — recommended by Nadra — was produced by the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research to affix voters’ thumb impressions on the rolls. (The special ink was developed to better identify voters through magnetic as well as optical readers.)
Polling stations were assigned on the basis of 2011 population census blocks. An SMS 8300 service was set up to help voters confirm their registration and the location of polling stations.
Electors were provided the opportunity to get themselves enrolled in constituencies of their residence, while CNIC data was used to ensure one vote per individual.
Higher grammage paper, not available in the market, was used to print ballot papers at the Pakistan Printing Corporation facilities in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi and the Security Printing Press, Karachi. To ensure that electoral materials were not tampered with, strict military cordons were maintained around the printing sites.
During printing, employees stayed at the facilities without access to visitors, mobile phones or electronic devices.
Materials were transported to district ROs’ camp offices under stringent security provided by the army and Rangers.
CNICs were checked, thumb impressions placed on electoral rolls, votes examined and counted, and results announced by the ROs in the presence of candidates’ election agents, and copies of the results were supplied to them.
The Representation of Peoples Act, 1976 provides candidates the right to approach ECP for redress of their grievances and recount of votes. Under Section 52 of the Act, after 60 days, candidates can only file appeals with election tribunals.
The 15 tribunals constituted by the CEC have the authority to open, recount, recheck votes and results. Against 849 assembly seats, a total of 402 appeals were filed before the election tribunals, out of which 312 have been decided.
Out of 241 PTI candidates who contested National Assembly seats, 27 returned as winners, 76 as runners-up and 138 at third position or lower. Only 29 PTI candidates filed petitions with election tribunals — 17 in Punjab, six each in Sindh and KP.
While 18 appeals have been decided, 11 remain pending along with those by 79 other candidates. Even assuming that all 29 appeals were settled in PTI’s favour, how would that have changed the final outcome?
This is not to suggest that individual candidates did not or could not have tried to rig their contests. Nor it is in any way suggested that substantial electoral reforms are not needed.
However, if Mr Ebrahim or the ECP wanted to rig the elections, why would they undertake such elaborate and unprecedented efforts to prevent electoral fraud?
The writer heads the Dawn Elections Cell.
Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2014