THE report released by the ECP on the Feb 19 Daska by-poll gives a hair-raising account of the premeditated rigging that was witnessed. Violence, missing election officials and chaos marred the proceedings, leading to a re-poll in April. With evidence and details reviewed and published by the ECP, it will forever be seen as a dark day when the will of the people was subverted. From senior officials of the Daska administration to the polling staff, the rigging has been established as an orchestrated event. Rigging is unfortunately part and parcel of the way elections in this country are conducted, but rarely has such a detailed and damning report been presented.
The ECP report notes that a constant observatory force drove or goaded presiding officers, who failed to perform their duties; that 20 POs were forcibly taken to ‘unknown places’; that one PO willingly took with him a bag that had been tampered with in a shopping bag; that POs, under some scheme, left their respective polling stations in private vehicles and reached Sialkot; that very few POs had managed to send the results of their respective polling stations through WhatsApp. It outlines the shocking role of the Daska deputy education officer who held a meeting with POs at her house, where they were instructed to favour the government and not bother about law and order if the situation deteriorated. The probe also revealed that the Sialkot colleges deputy director was involved in meetings held at the Daska assistant commissioner’s house for manipulating the election process — meetings which were also reportedly attended by the then special assistant to the Punjab chief minister Firdous Ashiq Awan. “It was a pre-planned scam that could not be possible without the reinforcement from their controlling departments,” the report said, adding that the police, too, breached their duties and ignored calls from the DSP Daska to locate the missing POs. The report makes practical recommendations, calling for returning officers to maintain a log of vehicles used for transporting POs, as well as details such as the number of persons travelling in each vehicle and their time of arrival and departure. Moreover, it recommends the use of a tracking chip in a disposable bracelet for POs in order to trace their whereabouts.
These revelations and recommendations paint a pitiful picture of the state of our democracy. Evidence of manipulation, cheating and forced election results show the extent of the disrespect that some ruling party members have for people’s right to choose their political representatives. Though plenty of noise is created by the government about the need for EVMs, the Daska by-poll reveals that the real threat is pre-poll rigging and external wheeling and dealing. Elections are a barometer of democracy, and if future polls look like the Daska disaster, our democracy will be seen as one that exists only in name.
Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2021