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by Hasan Muhammad

The term ‘rigging of elections’ is defined as ‘rival candidates’ ability to cast bogus votes’ and getting away with it by winning an election. As for how rigging is played out in Pakistan, mechanisms have been changing with times. Presently, it has taken the shape of ‘corporate rigging’, which includes pre-poll rigging, rigging during the election period and on polling day and post-election rigging.

For the coming general elections, the mechanism of ‘pre-poll rigging’ has included showering of jobs in bulk by the federal and provincial governments to supporters and voters, doling out millions of rupees to selected constituencies under the garb of development schemes and skillful manoeuvring of caretaker governments. Lawmakers’ apparent delaying (or blocking) to consider the Election Commission’s ‘Reform Package’ can also be viewed as pre-poll rigging.

‘Post-election rigging’ would include upsetting the Election Commission’s power under Section 103-AA of Representation of the People Act, 1976, of declaring polls void in constituencies where ‘grave irregularities’ take place, causing delays in timely disposal of writ petitions of agrieved parties, blocking punitive action against elected members for exceeding expenses’ limits, corrupt practices, etc.

Election rigging is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan and has been observed throughout in one form or another, whether it is local bodies’ elections, National Assembly elections or polls for provincial assemblies.

The practice started in the 1950s when staggered polls of provincial assemblies were held in Punjab, North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Sindh, Balochistan and the then East Pakistan. The blatant rigging of these elections was vociferously criticised by the public. The protests and uproar in the press were so loud that Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, who was prime minister at the time, had to stress that democracy could not be established in the country if free and fair elections were not held. He then set up the Electoral Reforms Commission in 1955, the recommendations of which were implemented in elections held thereafter. However, later, new methods were employed to rig elections.

Between 1951 and 1954, the techniques employed for rigging were simpler; for example, registration of bogus votes, rejection of nomination papers on flimsy grounds, voting under coercion and inducements, surreptitiously or forcefully opening and stuffing or tampering of ballot boxes and harassing of opponents or throwing them behind bars.

Then there was the1958 Martial Law and indirect elections of assemblies in 1962 and 1965 during which it was easy to manage members from East Pakistan through deputy commissioners.

The general elections 1970 were relatively fair but there were allegations of ‘capturing of polling stations’ by Awami League workers in some parts of East Pakistan.

In the Pakistan Peoples Party’s regime, the election cell working under Hayat Tamman devised an elaborate plan and patently rigged the March 1977 general elections. This led to nationwide protests by the Pakistan National Alliance. Consequently, there was General Ziaul Haq’s Martial Law of July 1977 which led to an eight-year-long interregnum before another election could take place.

Zia’s 1985 party-less general elections were won by affluent candidates who spent exorbitant amounts of money on their campaigns. Historically speaking, that set a permanent ‘role of money in elections.’

In the 1990s, besides the covert role of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), other tactics were employed to cast bogus votes by using patwarees, police officers, money, pressure tactics, enticement of voters, providing of transport to voters, using ‘muscle power’ of local gangsters to harass opponents’ polling agents, intimidation of opponents’ voters to keep them away from polling stations, capturing of polling stations and tampering of results at the stations.

All these tactics were practised in the 2000-2001 local government elections as well as in the 2002 general elections. In 2008 general elections, things allegedly happened under influence from the United States as well as through names of millions of bogus voters in the electoral rolls along with the classic tactics of rigging.

For the coming 2013 general elections, the empowered Election Commission has worked with the Agenda of Electoral Reforms, which included new electoral rolls prepared by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) with CNIC numbers and photographs, revised nomination forms, use of online data from the Federal Board of Revenue, State Bank of Pakistan, National Accountability Bureau, etc.

On the other hand, shrewd candidates, who have always proved their cunning in devising new methods of rigging, are likely to use most of the tactics previously explored. It is now to be seen how far the Election Commission would be able to combat innovative ‘corporate rigging’ and ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the country.

The author is a former secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (2001-2004). He has also written a book titled 'General Election in Pakistan: Some Untold Stories & Personal Experiences'.