Glaring irregularities

Published February 12, 2024

FRANTIC negotiations have started behind closed doors over the possible configurations of power, and some quarters will be eager to see the election chapter closed, with results accepted as fait accompli.

However, the citizenry — of which many braved a long campaign of intimidation and navigated several hurdles to exercise their vote — seems in no mood to meekly move on. It has good reason not to.

There were significant irregularities in this election that voters must be given answers for, and it is important that their concerns are promptly addressed by the ECP. The most pressing issue is what seems to be the outright theft of the public mandate in some parts of the country, as evidenced by the large discrepancies between various reported results.

There are growing voices of concern, including in the international community, over why some of the ECP’s announced results differ so widely from the personal tallies kept by the candidates as well as the unofficial, parallel counts maintained by TV channels through their independent sources.

Observers’ suspicions have been further strengthened by some obvious anomalies in the Form 47s released by ROs for certain constituencies, as well as the inordinately long time it has taken to ‘finalise’ results.

It is strange that, for most parts of the country, the results reported by the channels seem to closely match the results announced by the ECP much later; however, in many major urban constituencies, where media presence and resources are, in fact, the strongest, the divergence is extremely large. Clearly, something went awry during the results tabulation process in these constituencies, which needs to be promptly investigated and addressed.

Though investigations will get tricky in places where candidates were never given Form 45 — a serious irregularity that has been highlighted by several poll observers — there seem to be quite a few candidates who are in a position to mount a strong challenge.

These include, among others, several PTI-backed independents in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Islamabad, some of whom saw comfortable victories turn into overnight defeats. At least one, Salman Akram Raja in Lahore, has already contested his RO’s result in court, and others will likely follow suit.

Before things get messier, the ECP should take action. The present CEC had taken strict and principled action over the February 2021 rigging of the Daska by-poll, starting with withholding its result. Similar action is needed right now, especially in constituencies where losing candidates have evidence to make a strong claim.

Moreover, wherever the rules call for it, the ECP must allow a recount. It should also release any information that can help auditors cross-check its results. This is an opportunity for the institution to restore its credibility. With international pressure growing, it must act quickly.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2024

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