'The parties' claims over Form-45 have put a question mark on the elections'

Updated July 26, 2018

Email

PML-N Shahbaz Sharif shows a document as he speaks during a press conference at his political office in Lahore. —AFP
PML-N Shahbaz Sharif shows a document as he speaks during a press conference at his political office in Lahore. —AFP

At the time of writing these lines, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is leading in the poll count and is expected to make government at the centre. The PTI may also form government in the largest provincial assembly of Punjab.

Though, all this may only happen with the support from independents and other groups/parties.

But the PTI’s moment of joy may prove to be short lived if the allegations of rigging raised by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) turn out to be true.

The PML-N has gone to the extent of rejecting election results.

An important allegation raised by the PML-N is that their polling agents at (an unidentified number of) polling stations were not provided copies of Form-45.

This is a serious allegation as the information contained in this form is central to ensuring transparency of polls.

Form-45, as prescribed in the Election Rules 2017 (as amended to date), contains essential data of each polling station in any given constituency for both the national and provincial assemblies.

For instance, it provides, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, gender-wise disaggregated data of votes cast at every polling station.

Apart from this, the form is also supposed to list the following:

  1. Names of contesting candidates
  2. Number of valid votes polled in favour of each candidate
  3. Number of valid tendered votes polled in favour of each candidate
  4. Number of valid challenged votes polled in favour of each candidate
  5. Total number of valid votes polled in favour of each candidate
  6. Number of votes excluded from the count

But before Form-45 can be filled out, all the information has to be gathered.

For instance, under Rule 80 of the Election Rules, the presiding officer has to count separately, in respect of each contesting candidate, the ballot papers which are unambiguously marked in favour of that candidate and put each lot in a separate packet. These packets have to be signed by polling agents.

The same way, other requisite information (listed serial wise above) has to be gathered (by counting) and verified by signature on a packet containing relevant ballots by each polling agent present in the polling station.

The reference made to Form-45 signifies that there may be discrepancy between the actual count of the ballots (as described above) and the information fed on Form-45.

This puts a question mark against the whole exercise.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) cannot simply shrug saying that the polling agents left the polling station after they foresaw their respective candidates losing the contest.

Did the presiding officers get signatures of the polling agents on all the stipulated packets of ballots as prescribed?

If they did, then the contention of the ECP may carry some weight, not otherwise.

The ECP and its staff, especially the presiding officers, are under statutory and constitutional obligation to ensure transparency of the electoral process. Therefore, the ECP’s secretary’s public statement betrays lack of sense of responsibility.

Further, the law also prescribes that the presiding officers are also supposed to have independent election observers sign consolidated results.

Did the ECP specifically request independent election observers belonging to independent civil society organisations, domestic and international, to be present at the polling stations at the time of consolidation and distribution of Form-45?

The ECP’s explanation is far from adequate.

If past is anything to go by, it seems that the ECP may fail to resolve the controversy in a credible and acceptable manner.

Fairness and transparency are the most essential elements of a polling exercise. It stands questioned even before the declaration of results.