Today's Paper | May 27, 2024

Published 22 Feb, 2024 08:29am

‘We wuz robbed’

“WE wuz robbed!” Grammatically incorrect, perhaps, but a forceful outburst nevertheless, uttered first in the 1930s by Joe Jacobs, the manager of the boxer Max Schmeling after his rigged defeat in a heavyweight boxing match.

It has been used ever since in a variety of situations — from sports to elections — when a clear defeat has been changed into a murky victory. On Feb 8-9, it was repeated across Pakistan in different dialects following the 2024 general elections. Its final results have yet to receive an unequivocal acceptance by the competing parties.

Their complaints — some registered, others to be registered, a few tossed in the lap of the judiciary — rise from the discrepancy between the ECP’s Form 45 and Form 47. These forms are more than a bureaucratic formality. They are the foundations upon which the credibility of the balloting stands.

Specifically, Form 45 — the ‘Result of Count’ form — is the first record of votes polled at a polling station. It contains, inter alia, ‘the total number of registered voters, total number of votes cast, and a breakdown of the votes earned by each candidate”.

This has been the costliest and most sterile election in our history.

After votes have been counted, Form 45 is then submitted to the Returning Officer of each constituency. The RO tallies all the Form 45s to determine the final results and compiles a Form 47. “Form 47 documents the unconfirmed results in a constituency. This includes the number of votes polled in the constituency, a candidate-wise breakdown of votes, and the number of votes cancelled/ rejected.” Then, Forms 48 and 49 publish the full and final vote tallies. These become the official declarations of the election results.

The lowest tier in the pyramid carries the heaviest burden. It is expected to be the most dependable. Ideally, an EVM system minimises the possibility of fraudulent int­ervention between the tiers. In a manual system, however, ballot papers can be ma­­ni­­­­pulated by hands that leave no thumbprints.

Before the elections, many were sceptical about the impartiality of the ECP. After the elections, too many voters harbour suspicions about its conduct. To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s memorable phrase about the RAF during World War II, never in the history of Pakistan’s electoral conflict have so many votes been manipulated by so few. No wonder 128 million voters feel affronted. They wuz robbed.

At Rs49 billion, this has been the costliest and most sterile election in our history. The 128m voters (22m of them new entrants) would have preferred to see the government spend that money on their education. (The allocation for education in the 2023-24 budget was Rs97bn.) Instead, they have been taught the wrong lesson: that electoral fraud was not invented in Pakistan; it was simply perfected here.

When the spoils of war were arrayed bef­ore the major political parties, they seemed reluctant to claim their prizes. The presidency, the prime ministership and other constitutional posts were being tossed bet­ween the PML-N and PPP as if they were tinsel crowns. Our leaders are discovering the truth in Frederick the Great’s remark that “a crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in”.

A deluge of problems awaits the next prime minister. Daunted by the prospect, a disappointed Nawaz Sharif who dreamed of a fourth term as PM shied away before the final hurdle. He has decided to invest his sunset years in grooming his daughter Maryam for the gentler steeplechase of Punjab’s chief ministership.

Nawaz has yielded the PM-ship to his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif. To understand why Shehbaz Sharif agreed to don the spiky cro­wn, re­­member the assurance he gave to IMF’s managing director Kr­­istalina Georgi­eva in July 2023. Then, expres­sing his “pr­­ofound gratitude” for her “support and assistance in materialising” the Stand-by Arra­ng­e­ment for $3bn, he assured her that “after the elections, if the people of Pakistan re-elect his government, he is committed to turning over the economy with the help of IMF and development partners”. She conveyed to the IMF board that she had personally met the prime minister and “seen his seriousness to deliver”.

The IMF and friendly lenders (particularly China over CPEC) now expect Shehbaz Sharif to stand up and deliver.

How long will the next coalition government last? Longer than any of its predecessors? Or will it be constantly looking over its shoulder, afraid of an establishment itching to remove it?

One recalls that in 1981, Gen Ziaul Haq selected a little-known ironmonger Nawaz Sharif as the finance minister Punjab. When he began his political career 40 years ago, the uppermost hierarchy in the present establishment were still either cadets or probationers then.

No wonder ageing Caesars fear the dagger of Brutus the Younger.

The writer is an author.


Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2024

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