IT is a political hot potato that no one in a position of accountability or executive authority appears to be in a hurry to address credibly. But the particular stain on a deeply controversial general election will not be removed until there is a full and transparent explanation for what transpired on the night of July 25 in the hours after polls closed across the country. The alleged failure of the Results Transmission System (RTS) has consistently been denied by Nadra and thus far no inquiry has been initiated that can be considered truly independent. The Election Commission of Pakistan has passed the buck to the cabinet division, effectively asking the PTI government to investigate an election that brought the PTI to power at the centre and in three provinces. Meanwhile, the PTI has conducted what is in reality an internal party probe and that inquiry has heaped blame on Nadra without presenting the necessary proof.

To be sure, a failure or breakdown of the RTS does not automatically suggest that polling-day rigging took place. Proof of rigging in the counting of votes and transmission of results will need to go beyond the suspension of the RTS on July 25. There are surely several technical and human reasons for RTS failure that do not necessarily involve deliberate manipulation by anti-democratic forces. But without a credible and full explanation for what the ECP has claimed and Nadra has denied vis-a-vis the RTS, the fairness and legality of the election results will remain in doubt. Moreover, while the opposition parties are focused on the election that they have recently lost, the troubling events on the night of July 25 could be repeated in future elections if the problem is not adequately addressed. So, irrespective of whether the ECP or Nadra is right, there will remain questions of how to address the failures or interference in future.

It ought to be apparent that in addition to whatever inquiries the executive and political parties themselves conduct, parliament must also investigate in a meaningful and bipartisan manner the alleged failure of the RTS and a host of other pre- and post-poll allegations made by virtually all political parties other than the PTI. But not only is the opposition already divided on a number of issues, the leading opposition parties seem content for the time being with making bombastic statements and issuing meaningless denunciations of the poll process. The last parliament made significant changes to the electoral process and the July 25 election was the first test of the reforms legislated by parliament. Even without the troubling events in the run-up to the elections and on polling day itself, a comprehensive review of the new process would have been justified. The PTI and the opposition parties must move quickly to setting up an empowered and bipartisan parliamentary inquiry.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2018

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