THE Election Commission of Pakistan is meeting today to decide on the course of action regarding the by-election in NA-75 Daska whose result it had withheld in light of reports of irregularities and mismanagement.
The chief election commissioner will receive reports from all concerned staff of the commission and then decide whether there should be re-poll in the 20 polling stations marred by controversy, or if a fresh election should be ordered for the whole constituency. The ECP had issued a strongly worded press release a day after the election saying that the staff of those 20 polling station could not be reached till the morning while the police and administration officials of the Punjab government were also unavailable.
The election in Daska also witnessed violence between PTI and PML-N supporters as a result of which two people lost their lives. The ECP should take this election as a test case to identify all the problems that marred it, apportion blame where it lies and take strict action against all those found responsible. It should also ensure it gets answers about the whereabouts of its staff that disappeared in the night along with the results from those stations.
The ‘mystery’ must not remain unsolved. With such a large staff having gone missing, it would be an absolute travesty if the ECP cannot unearth the facts and bring them to the public. The people have a right to know what is happening with their votes. At the same time, the ECP must also demand answers from the Punjab government. If the chief election commissioner cannot depend on the support of a provincial government, then the leadership of that government has some serious explaining to do. At stake is the credibility of the entire system. If a democratic state cannot even organise a free and fair election in a single constituency, and if the polling staff has to work under threat of abduction without anyone being held responsible, then Pakistan’s democratic institutions are far weaker than we would want to admit.
The PTI and PML-N have worsened the situation by sacrificing facts at the altar of political expediency. The former party has the most to lose. If it is tarred with the brush of rigging, its politics will suffer grievously. It is of great concern, therefore, to hear PTI leaders pointing fingers at the ECP instead of demanding answers from their own government in Punjab. It is high time that all parties took the pending issue of electoral reforms seriously. Without these reforms, our elections will remain controversial and generate political instability continuously. For now however, all parties must adhere to the decision of the ECP even if it goes against them. They must accept the findings and the verdict without dragging the ECP into further controversy. A lot is riding on the Daska election.
Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2021