ISLAMABAD: More than anything else, including RTS failure, the most intriguing question haunting the July 25 General Election is that what had stopped tens of thousands of Presiding Officers (POs) from reaching the offices of Returning Officers (ROs) even after lapse of over 12 hours following the closure of polling. The question arises after going through available facts, documents and some preliminary investigations.
Ironically, a claim is made that one ECP official in every province called 30 to 40,000 presiding officers in one minute and ask them to stop using Result Transmission System (RTS) which was working perfectly until 11:47pm and actually stop working at 11:47pm suddenly. This is impossible.
NADRA might not have been responsible for this all of a sudden breakdown of the RTS and there might have been some conspiracy to block it which needs investigations not the allegations.
Still, failure of RTS for whatever reasons, technical breakdown because of heavy traffic or presiding officers stopped using it following some instructions, could not be made only basis of unbelievable and unprecedented delay in results and by making it a sole reasons the real causes, aims and motives will go in background. ECP officials say that the POs were completely disappeared for one complete night and were not responding to the calls from DROs and ROs.
Why tens of thousands of presiding officers decided to not reach in offices of returning officers in unanimity, who made them to reach on this unanimous decision, is the real issue and which should be thoroughly probed to understand exactly what happened. It is important to understand what is RMS and RTS and how they function.
There were ROs for every constituency – 270 national assembly constituencies and 571 provincial assemblies’ constituencies (election on two NA and six PAs constituencies were postponed) - for which polling is conducted in different polling stations of each constituency. There are around 300 polling stations for every NA constituency and there were around 85,000 across the country. After completion of polling and counting of votes processes, the presiding officers take the result to the office of ROs of their respective constituencies and then process of consolidation and announcement of results starts.
What are RMS and RTS and what is the difference between them? Both RMS and RTS are separate systems. RMS is developed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) itself; whereas, RTS was developed by Nadra.
RMS: Result Management System (RMS) was introduced as a trial during last general elections and was successfully utilised during 24 bye-elections afterwards. The whole RMS was installed by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) at the offices of all ROs across the country with the help of UNDP without any assistance from the government of Pakistan. Under RMS, computers were provided at 849 ROs offices across the country along with a data entry operator and an IT expert. Software of results management system is installed in these computers.
As the results from the polling stations start reaching the office of RO, the same is entered in RMS and in return RMS gives a print out of automatically generated Form-45 (Statement of vote count of a polling station) and Form-46 (Statement of ballot paper count of a polling station).
So, first basic thing about RMS is that it only starts functioning once the presiding officers start reaching the office of RO. RMS has nothing to do with polling stations. It is installed in the offices of the ROs and this is the basic difference of RMS from RTS which was to function at almost every polling station. RMS will not start functioning if POs will not reach the office of RO. It will complete its task of preparing result of one constituency when all the POs will reach and submit the result of their polling stations to the RO. Obviously, RMS can’t ensure timely arrival of POs in the office of RO.
When the result from all polling stations is completed, it gives machine generated print out of Form-47 (Unofficial consolidated result with count of postal ballots). The Form-47 cannot be printed until POs of all polling stations in a constituency do not submit results of their polling station (Form-45 signed by the presiding officer, assistant presiding officer and all polling agents).
Available facts show that RMS efficiency after July 25 general elections was 100% as the Form-47 (unofficial consolidated result of a constituency) were not only printed out in moments but were also uploaded on the ECP website, but, yes, only after POs managed to reach the offices of their respective ROs.
After final consolidation of results at RO office, which has to be carried out within five days after the polling day and postal ballot count is also added, the RMS gives automatically generated prints out without any error of Form-48 (Detailed polling station-wise consolidated result of a constituency) and Form-49 (Final consolidated result of a constituency showing votes obtained by individual candidates in that constituency). Form-48 and Form-49 will also be uploaded on the ECP web once the process of final consolidation is completed.
RTS: Result Transmission System was introduced by the ECP this time, and this was sublet to Nadra which developed software of this smart phone app. RTS was meant to transmit result from almost every polling station, the moment it is finalised, by the PO of that polling station to office of respective RO and ECP headquarter by just taking a picture of Form-45 and uploading it on this mobile app. This was to be done before the PO would move to the office of RO to submit this result there where it will be entered in the RMS. The data was coming on a central server which could only be viewed by the RO of concerned constituency and in the ECP head office. ECP had facilitated journalists in its monitoring room to witnesses the live results coming through RTS. The ECP, however, provided access to text of the results to state owned TV channel as well.
So, the RTS was to function on some 82,000 (out of around 85,000) polling station directly sending results to the RO offices and ECP head office. What happened at Polling Stations and ECP head office after closing time of Polling?
After closing of poling at 6:00 pm, according to ECP officials, polling staff and many polling agents, the counting process was completed before 10:00pm at around 90% polling station across the country. Now, the POs started sending results of their polling stations using RTS to respective RO and ECP head office. Many journalists present in the monitoring room of ECP head-office were monitoring the arrival of results through the RTS. Though late, as compare to past general elections, the results from thousands of polling stations from across the country started being displayed on screen of RTS system in the ECP head office. However, few minutes before the midnight, the process of arrival of results through RTS suddenly stopped. Not a single result appeared on RTS system once it was stopped.
Whatever was the reason of this problem, collapse of the system because of load or something else, needs to be probed, but mere stopping of working of this system cannot justify the disappearance of tens of thousands of POs from across the country for a whole night. Elections were held before RTS as well and routine system has to continue as per law, but it was stopped.
ECP officials, after RTS fiasco, started waiting for the arrival of POs at the offices of ROs so the first result could be announced. However, the POs were not reaching the RO offices. When the ECP officials started contacting DROs and ROs, most of them showed their inability to manage arrival of hundreds of POs in their offices as majority of POs were offline with their mobiles switched off or were not attending calls. Meanwhile, the ECP managed to get complete result of one provincial constituency of Rawalpindi and completely helpless chief election commissioner (CEC) announced it at after 4:00am in the morning. After this, wait for the arrival of POs at the offices of respective ROs restarted. The POs started arriving in the offices of ROs at around 10:00am next morning and most of them cited a clause of code of conduct as the reason of their delayed arrival according to which they were bound to move from the polling stations to the RO offices only in protection of security officials and same could have been possible only at that time.
Negligence of Polling Staff that raised doubts:
After closing of polling, the statements of different POs, other polling staff and polling agents show that the seals of the ballot boxes were opened in the presence of polling agents. However, after that, at majority of the polling stations, they were either asked to leave the polling room until the counting is completed or were made to sit in one corner of the hall from where they could not observe the counting of ballot papers. Almost all political parties also made same statement right after the polling. The polling agents were not even able to check which ballot papers were being rejected. According to polling agents, a comprehensive scrutiny of all the rejected ballot papers across the country can suggest if any pattern was adopted to make a ballot paper ‘rejected’. At majority of the polling stations, according to statements made by PPP, MQM and PML-N leaders, polling agents were unable to see what was happening at the place where counting of votes was in progress and at other polling stations the polling agents were simply sent out of polling room and were asked to wait within the premises of the polling station for the conclusion of the counting process so they can sign the Form-45. Majority of the polling agents refused to sign the Form-45 because of the same reason. Sources in ECP claim that more than 80% of the Form-45 neither bear the signatures of all the polling agents of that polling station nor the reasons are recorded by the concerned PO as to why they didn’t sign the Form-45 as required under the law.
ECP negligence which is authenticating doubts:
Now the polling agents who were pushed out of the polling rooms or were made to sit in a corner far away from the place where counting was being carried out could have made videos of the same instances and can produce them as an evidence. Though even now presiding officers being contacted confirm keeping the polling agents away from the counting process, still the video evidence could have been more powerful tool to tell the people about the truth and of exactly what happened. All the polling staff and security officials had communication devices and could have contacted outside world or have called others at the polling stations but polling agents were not even able to inform outside world or their candidates about the situation they were facing.
Had the ECP not banned the use of mobile phones, by the voters and especially by the polling agents, such serious doubts on the credibility and transparency of process of elections would never have been raised. With so much evidence of stamped ballot papers being found at different places, the things are becoming clearer with every passing day with ECP not moving an inch to investigate basic complaints of manoeuvrings and manipulations.
Altaf Ahmad, ECP director media, while talking to The News said that ECP has already ordered an inquiry into the matter of collapse of RTS in the night of poling day. He said that ECP is aware why presiding officers reached late in the offices of ROs so there is no need of any inquiry on this count.
ECP spokesman Nadeem Qasim was not available for comments despite repeated attempts to reach him but he explained to media that the presiding officers were in any case required to reach the RO offices under the security cover even after sending the results through the RTS to physically submit Forms 45. “However, after the collapse of the RTS, the presiding officers simultaneously reached the RO offices and it took longer than the required time to enter the data of each polling station,” Qasim told media. He also told media that ECP would welcome any kind of inquiry into the matter as there must be fact-finding to end the controversy.