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Voter verification

December 07, 2012

ALL appears set for launching a door-to-door verification of voters in Karachi after the chief election commissioner said on Wednesday that his organisation was ready to implement the Supreme Court’s orders. Given the anomaly pointed out in a petition to the apex court, a rectification of the electoral rolls would serve to give the voting right to those millions who have been registered in their hometowns despite being Karachi residents for a long time. A verified and up-to-date voter list would pre-empt manipulation allegations after the election. The issue is the gigantic nature of the task within the short time available to the Election Commission of Pakistan. Mobilising adequate manpower to go door to door in a sprawling city with an estimated population of 18 million is a huge task. In the normal registration process done leisurely years in advance, the ECP falls back on part-time workers like school teachers to register voters. But with little time available, it remains to be seen how the ECP goes about it. The SC has suggested that the services of the army and Rangers be utilised. This raises a major question: can the army spare men for the job in the violence-prone metropolis?

There is no doubt Karachi’s police force has its hands full. Its resources are stretched, given the city’s endemic ethnic and sectarian violence, acts of terrorism, the crime mafias, as in Lyari, and the security duty to protect VIPs. Besides, the force is politicised. It is, therefore, the army and Rangers that may have to step in. But, again, the men of the two forces can only provide protection to enumerators; they cannot do the paperwork. With the CEC having pledged himself to the task, all one can do is to hope the commission would be able to complete verification well in time despite the odds. What matters is an on-time general election. Nothing should be done that in any way upsets the schedule for the next polls for which the electorate and the political parties seem ready.

Finally, it is relevant to mention the delimitation debate here. While the verification of voters can enhance the credibility of the elections, delimitation at this point in time would have the opposite effect. It is a potentially divisive and dangerous exercise in a city mired in ethnic politics, especially if it is carried out without a census and only in Karachi. Although close to the polls, the verification of voters should go ahead while the ECP should put off delimitation till the next census.