ECP must explain

Updated Aug 02 2018

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THE ECP appears more interested in lashing out at critics of its disastrous performance after the close of polling hours on July 25 than investigating the shambolic vote counting and results transmission processes that so delayed the announcement of preliminary election results.

On Tuesday, ECP secretary Babar Yaqoob held an extraordinary news conference in which the ECP appeared to all but declare war on political parties and candidates who have cried foul since election night.

As an autonomous, constitutional body tasked with organising and conducting elections in the country, the ECP ought to be careful in the language it uses about political parties and election candidates.

Arguably, it is the ECP itself that is disrespecting the democratic process, as Mr Yaqoob alleged political parties calling for en masse resignation of senior ECP officials are doing.

Too often, when administrative failures are manifestly apparent, the officials presiding over a process that has broken down attack critics rather than explain their actions. The ECP must not evade responsibility for the election night fiasco.

As the dust settles from what remains a controversial election — perhaps the most controversial of the three general elections since 2008 — there are many unanswered questions.

The decision by the PML-N and the PPP to reject a parliamentary boycott called for by some political elements is the right choice from a democratic perspective, but that decision can have no bearing on how the ECP addresses the significant problems that were apparent on polling day.

Three problems in particular demand a full and transparent explanation.

One, the alleged unlawful exclusion of some polling agents from polling stations in various parts of the country. Two, either the failure of the Presiding Officer in numerous polling stations to issue Form 45 in a timely manner or the failure of the ECP to distribute Form 45, which lists the votes won by each candidate at the polling-station level, in adequate numbers to the POs. And three, the alleged collapse of the electronic Results Transmission System after the close of polling hours.

The alleged failure of the RTS on the night of the election because of overload on a system that had been deployed for the first time, according to the ECP, is still shrouded in mystery.

The RTS is a system designed to send, via a smartphone app, results from a polling station to the Returning Officer in the constituency and to the ECP headquarters simultaneously. The very purpose of the RTS is to act as a check on the RO, who has in the past been accused of manipulating constituency-level results.

The alleged collapse of the RTS once again effectively gave control of the election results at the constituency level to the ROs. The failure of the RTS on election night has been denied by Nadra and other officials. The ECP ought to clarify what happened.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2018