New results system falls flat, like RTS in 2018

Published February 9, 2024
Election officials count ballot papers after polls closed at a polling station during Pakistan national election in Lahore on February 8, 2024. — AFP
Election officials count ballot papers after polls closed at a polling station during Pakistan national election in Lahore on February 8, 2024. — AFP

• ECP official appears on PTV to announce first result from KP assembly; commission says all results being announced by TV channels ‘unverified’
• Special Secretary Zafar Iqbal blames internet, mobile phone outages for delay in result announcement

KARACHI / ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan’s claim that it would ensure the timely announcement of results without depending on the internet fell flat on its face when the absence of connectivity brought forth a set of unexpected yet familiar challenges, mai­nly for Presiding Officers at a number of polling stations on Thursday evening, who found themselves unable to transmit the final results of their respective stations using the much-touted and homegrown Elec­tion Management System (EMS).

As a result, the ECP had declared just a handful of results till late in the night.

In the evening, the ECP had back-tracked from this claim to some extent, when an official of the constitutional body said that the presiding officers would now “physically” send the results of their polling stations to the offices of their respective returning officers, where they would be transmitted via the system “once internet service is restored.”

Talking to Dawn, senior journalist MB Soomro said that a large number of local and foreign journalists were present in the Media Cell, set-up at the ECP, awaiting any word on results.

He said the chief election commissioner, the secretary and all the members were present in their offices. The CEC was expected to address a press conference, but instead, Special Secretary Zafar Iqbal appeared on state-run PTV just before 3am to announce the first official results from the KP provincial assembly.

In a brief announcement, he squarely blamed the suspension of internet and mobile phone services for the delay in the compilation and announcement of results.

According to Mr Soomro, the commission had made it clear that any results being broadcast on TV channels were not verified by them.

Mr Soomro said that he had been covering elections for more than two decades and never ever witnessed such a situation. “It did not happen even in 2018 when the elections were marred by the RTS controversy, he said

Separately, a source told Dawn that there was mismanagement outside the offices of the ROs for NA-47 and NA-48 in Islamabad when the presiding officers of a number of polling stations reached there to submit the election results and material after midnight.

They said there were altercations between the security officials and the POs and the latter were told to wait inside their vehicles. The sources said due to a long queue of the vehicles, the POs were not able to submit the election results which they had failed to send through EMS due to suspension of phone and internet services.

ECP justification

Earlier in the day, ECP Additional Director General (Monitoring & Eva­l­ua­tion) Haroon Khan Shinwari claimed that the commission was committed to ensuring the timely announcement of the election results.

Results from remote areas, he said, could take more time, but those from the cities would be finalised by Thursday night, he had said.

Talking to state-run PTV News, he clarified that the Election Management System set up for results was not reliant on internet connectivity.

Internet outages would not impact the election results process, he clarified.

He had explained that the process of counting, data entry on forms, and result submission had been precisely arranged to avoid any hiccups. Returning Officers (ROs) would be able to input results offline on the EMS, he added.

With the suspension of cellular service early in the morning when polling began, it became a headache for people who wanted to use the 8300 service to get information about their polling stations.

The fresh curbs also raised questions on how the presiding officers will transmit election results of their respective polling stations using the controversial Election Manage­ment System. The experts who were already doubtful about the Election Commission of Pakistan claim said the situation emerged as feared.

“It already didn’t sound like a workable solution in the digital age when you claim that the results from the presiding officers would be transmitted through while being offline,” said telecom expert Ansar ul Haq.

“Secondly, without live communication, it hinders independent verification and transparency, which is vital for international confidence. The internet shutdown in any case casts a shadow on openness, generating public and international concerns in the election process.”

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2024

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