Chaos unfolding

Published February 18, 2024

IT seems there will be no avoiding the inevitable for the ECP. Rawalpindi commissioner Liaquat Ali Chattha’s Saturday press conference, during which he dropped bombshell allegations against the CEC, has strengthened the demands for an immediate and independent audit of election results. The senior officer, while expressing regret for “facilitating” the rigging of election results, asked to be punished while also holding the respective heads of the judiciary and ECP responsible for “the theft of the people’s mandate”.

Lending credence to allegations that have been made by scores of contestants from different political parties over the past 10 days or so, Mr Chattha said that, on his orders, candidates who were winning with large margins in the constituencies of the Rawalpindi division were made to lose, while the losing candidates were declared victorious.

“I am taking responsibility for this wrongdoing and telling you that the chief election commissioner and the chief justice are also completely involved,” he alleged.

A commissioner is no ordinary officer. They are some of the most powerful bureaucrats in service, handpicked by the state to oversee entire administrative divisions. By virtue of their position, they exercise immense power and influence over the machinery of the state. It is, therefore, no surprise that Mr Chattha’s ‘confession’ has caused quite a storm. It has been widely extolled as an example of a bureaucrat resisting pressures from powerful quarters and choosing to stand on the right side of history.

However, one must also remain wary of confirmation bias. Humans have a tendency to believe anything that affirms what we already hold to be true. For this reason, it is in everyone’s best interest that Mr Chattha’s claims are immediately and thoroughly investigated and that any supporting evidence that is unearthed be brought before the public. The claims he has made cannot be dismissed; at the same time, however, one must exercise increased prudence during times of growing uncertainty.

These elections will be remembered as perhaps the most controversial electoral exercise held in the last few decades. The credit for this unforgettable ignominy will accrue mainly to the ECP, which, despite being empowered by the law in every possible manner to conduct “free, fair, impartial and inclusive’” polls, betrayed its mandate in the worst possible way.

Its failure to ensure transparency in the vote-counting process, in particular, has caused unaffordable chaos, with multiple stakeholders now unwilling to accept the results given how stark the irregularities seem. Instead of addressing the public’s apprehensions or assuring them that issues in results tabulation will be promptly looked into, the ECP has chosen to stay mum. Now, much more serious allegations are being levelled against senior officials of the state. The commission must wake up. Its silence is causing irreparable harm.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2024

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