Open the books

Published February 20, 2024

THE knocking on its doors keeps growing louder. How long can the ECP ignore it? Over the weekend, Pakistan’s most prominent elections monitoring body as well as its top human rights watchdog have added their voices to calls for an audit of election results.

On Saturday, the same day a senior bureaucrat had ‘confessed’ to his involvement in results tampering, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed its reservations regarding the “integrity and credibility” of the Feb 8 exercise, noting a range of issues that it said had “cast a shadow over the democratic process”.

A day later, the Free and Fair Election Network urged the ECP to take immediate action and address complaints regarding illegalities committed in the compilation of election results. It also proposed a three-phase process to comprehensively address the widespread allegations of rigging, which is based on an audit of each step in the results consolidation process.

In Pakistan, it is almost customary for election candidates to refuse to acknowledge their defeat. Except a few, most are generally quick to cast aspersions and question the integrity of any election which does not go in their favour.

This time, however, certain irregularities have been so widespread that even otherwise impartial observers are joining the chorus of voices demanding a recount and investigation into the post-poll results compilation process.

For example, there are ample witnesses to the fact that both election laws and the rules governing how vote counting and compilation is supposed to be done were not adhered to by many returning officers on election day.

Many independent observers, candidates and accredited media personnel reported being excluded or evicted from the Form 47 compilation process which was completed at ROs’ offices, indicating that the most important check on the process was bypassed without any convincing explanation being given.

Compiled behind closed doors, many results later issued by ROs did not match the consolidated results from Form 45s issued to different candidates’ polling agents. Fortunately, there is an extensive paper trail for each constituency, which can still be used to verify them.

Fafen has called for an audit led by the ECP that starts by closely examining this paper trail. The monitor notes that the ECP still has power to adjudicate results “before the expiration of 60 days after publication of the name of returned candidate in the official gazette”. It suggests that independent observers as well as election candidates be invited to participate in this audit, so that all controversies can be resolved satisfactorily.

As such, these suggestions are not unreasonable or outside the law. They might show the ECP a way to redeem its image. Will it choose to assert itself as an independent, principled body, or continue to look the other way?

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2024

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