THE hotly contested NA-249 Karachi bypoll has thrown up a few surprises and challenges for the future. Not many anticipated a big crowd on polling day owing to surging coronavirus infections, the month of fasting and the hot weather. But, given the hectic campaign run by the contesting political parties, few could have predicted just how abysmally low the voter turnout would be. Then we had election officials who for some inexplicable reason took a long time counting the ballots despite the low turnout. The emergence of PPP’s Qadir Mandokhel — who had trailed behind all his rivals in 2018 — as winner was a major surprise. But the bigger one was the pathetic showing of the PTI — far worse than was expected by political analysts — in a constituency considered its stronghold. The loss of one poll after another by the ruling PTI in recent months — especially in constituencies it won in the 2018 poll — demands serious introspection within the party and an honest review of the performance of its government.

The fact that the number of votes rejected was greater than the margin of victory has enhanced public perceptions of wrongdoing. Hopefully, the ECP will thoroughly investigate the PML-N’s allegations, especially accusations of delayed announcement of results, now that it has accepted the PML-N’s application for a recount. What happened in Karachi and earlier in Daska (the ECP had to order re-polling after 20 of its election officials went missing for several hours) weakens the electoral process and underscores the dire need for reforms that have been on hold for a long time now. The introduction of electronic voting machines as proposed by the government can be considered but the administration will have to go far beyond that to ensure transparent and fair elections. The opposition should consider the prime minister’s latest offer to discuss electoral reforms and both sides must extensively debate and forge a consensus on the kind of changes they want well before the 2023 election.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2021

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