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Votes on sale in several constituencies

Updated July 16, 2018

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PESHAWAR: The poll candidates in several constituencies of the tribal districts are bribing voters and doling out cash to the poor to ensure they cast ballots on the polling day of the 2018 general elections in their favour, according to sources.

The trend of purchasing votes also prevails in some constituencies of Mardan, Swabi, Peshawar and other districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where candidates are applying various ways to fulfill voters’ expectations.

As if handing out bribes in cash or kind is not enough, the shrewd contestants not only bind the voters to swear on the Holy Quran, they also make it binding on the electorates to swear that their lawful marriages would become invalid if they don’t vote for them.

Some candidates spend about Rs400,000 on food served to electorates daily

“After paying the voters, the contenders make them take oath on the Quran to vote for them. But since that doesn’t guarantee anything, they invoke something far graver in terms of socio-cultural and religious significance,” discloses Suhbat Khan, who has announced boycott of the elections.

He says that the candidates make them pledge that if they don’t vote for them, their marriages would stand annulled and wives divorced through the Talaq — a rite of divorcing a spouse that comes with the weight of social and religious sanction. He complains that district returning officers have yet to take notice of the situation.

“Nobody is bothering about the code of conduct,” says Suhbat Khan. He alleges that candidates are blatantly violating election’s laws and some of them are spending approximately Rs400,000 on food served to electorates on daily basis. Suhbat Khan says that returning officer of the area or Election Commission of Pakistan doesn’t take notice of the open violation of laws.

According to Election Act 2017, a candidate contesting for a National Assembly seat can spend up to Rs4 million on electioneering while a contestant for the provincial assembly seat can’t spend more than Rs2 million.

Information gathered from multiple sources and background interviews with voters show that candidates, contesting polls on the party’s tickets or as independents, are striking deals with the voters through their “front men.” The candidates are making payment in form of cash, goods or community services.

The rich candidates are offering to dig wells, pave the streets and distribute solar panels, fans or pay heavy amount to welfare organisations, mosques, seminaries, shrines or other religious places in the name of donations. Interestingly, candidates have started payment of donation to shrines, charity bodies and mosques after filing their nomination papers.

On the other hand electorates, especially poor and the politically uneducated, see the elections not as a process of democratic representation but an opportunity to claim their share of the electoral largesse by selling their vote.

An independent candidate contesting for provincial assembly seat in Mardan district has adopted a novel way to bribe the voters. He chose more than 15 people through toss and sent them to Saudi Arabia for performing Umrah. He also distributes motorcycles among the winners of the toss.

The locals say that the candidate is also purchasing vote at a rate of Rs5,000, but prior to payment the voter have to take oath on the Holy Quran to cast his/her vote in his favour.

Wealthy candidates are also distributing solar panels, fans and other goods among voters in Swabi district. They are also installing solar panels, fans and water coolers at community centres like mosques and hujras.

A candidate of a major political party, who owns CNG station in Peshawar, is filling gas in cars and other light vehicles in an attempt to bribe voters. The candidates in Kurram, Orakzai, Khyber and South Waziristan are offering Rs6,000 to Rs10,000 for one vote.

The contenders have adopted modus operandi for purchasing votes in tribal areas. Multiple sources say that candidates strike deals with elders or influential persons of a village or clan through their middle men.

The elder gives surety to the candidate that specific number of voters will cast their ballots in his favour on the polling day.

The candidate will deposit the amount with a middle man. If the required numbers of votes are polled in favour of the said candidate on July 25, the middle man will make payment to the elder otherwise the amount will be returned.

Ibrar Jan, who is contenting for NA-46, also complains about violation of laws by several candidates in his constituency. He alleges that official funds allocated to former MNA are still utilised for construction of streets and water schemes etc. He says that practice of purchasing votes through “front men” also exists in area, but agreements between the voters and candidates are kept secret.

Sohail Khan, spokesman for ECP in Peshawar, told Dawn that his office was receiving complaints about violation of poll law by the candidates that included bribing of voters.

“Our main office in Peshawar is receiving complaints from candidates on daily basis. The candidates should first approach the concerned monitoring officers,” he said.

He said that ECP had proper mechanism for preventing violation of laws and candidates could complain to the concerned district returning officers, who also acted as monitoring officers in their respective districts. Under the law, he said, the monitoring team would properly investigate the allegations.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2018