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August 10, 2014
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Rigged?

Opinion

August 10, 2014

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The wait for ‘Naya Pakistan’ is over. The PTI promises to deliver on August 14. A bit delayed, but this due to massive rigging in the elections. Not convinced about rigging? Read the PTI whitepaper to discover the following. Of 849 constituencies the whitepaper raises alarm regarding 32 – 3.8 percent! Nineteen of these are national. Since the proposal is to dislodge the federal government let us focus on these.

NA68: the concern is that in one of 300 odd polling stations, votes in the final tally exceeded the number of registered voters. Foul play? Possibly so, if there was any impact on the result, but far from it. The Election Commission too clarified this as a typographical error and not because excess votes were cast.

NA93, NA107 and NA140: the results issued by presiding officers did not match the consolidated results declared by returning officers. But the allegation pertains to only three polling stations in NA93, and one each in the other two.

NA176 is also mentioned though there was no real contest. The PTI candidate secured 10,840 votes against 88,322 by the PML-N and 74,840 by the PML-F. In NA135 too, the margin is greater than the votes obtained by the PTI. NA9, NA42, NA46, NA154, NA255 and NA256 (the latter two in Karachi) are also listed. The PML-N, however, is not the winner.

The PTI’s real grievance against the PML-N is therefore regarding the other seven, which recorded victories for the PML-N. Regarding NA57 and NA125 (as also NA9 and NA154, where the PML-N did not win), it is highlighted that the electronic media predicted a PTI victory. Fair enough, but why not apply this to all other constituencies too (including Imran’s) where the electronic media gave clear victory to the PML-N?

It is alleged that the PTI’s agents were evicted from polling stations to assist bogus voting. But there is no suggestion that polling agents of other parties were also evicted, in whose presence too bogus voting could not have taken place. The white paper is also silent on why no protests were registered with election authorities during polling. The media too did not pick this up. Geo of course was biased, but what about other channels?

It is alleged that PTI voters were not permitted to vote, but how did the polling staff tell them apart from other voters? The white paper does however name three persons who were denied voting in PS 82 in NA 122!

Ironically, the white paper says that every time the PTI approached the Election Commission, it was granted relief, except where the prayer was to annul the result (which falls outside its powers. One does not find any order that looks unreasonable.

The white paper attaches volumes of irrelevant documents, but very few election petitions. One such petition is by Jehangir Tareen, which is well documented and makes a strong case, but if you ask why it has not been adjudicated so far, do know that it lists 118 witnesses! Besides, it is worth recalling that this petition is against an independent candidate, not the PML-N. In another petition attached with the white paper, the PTI candidate even admitted during cross-examination that many of the allegations in his statement before the tribunal were not included in the petition.

The white paper must be the PTI’s best effort, considering how much hinges on it, but it does not enhance one’s confidence in the party. Indeed, even the PTI has moved away from it. The focus now is not on presiding officers but on returning officers (ROs), who manipulated results on the instructions of the former chief justice!

The premise is that results from polling stations were favourable to the PTI, but this is inconsistent with the position in the white paper, which is that rigging took place in the polling stations. Also, if results from polling stations were truly favourable to the PTI, how come the electronic media remained clueless and kept announcing victory for the PML-N in virtually all constituencies in which they ultimately won? The ROs were not even involved at this stage.

Since the Long March is being held because the government failed to carry out thumb verifications, the PTI needs to understand that the government cannot order such verification, only election tribunals can. The best the government can do is to request its MNAs not to resist PTI applications. The MNAs would not however be bound by such request, and when it comes to independent MNAs (as in NA154) the government lacks any influence at all. One also learns that in some cases the delays are on account of PTI candidates not wanting to enter the witness box. How should the tribunal then conclude that there is enough evidence of rigging to refer the matter to Nadra?

But we don't even have to go through this exercise to know that if counterfoils were presented to Nadra for verification, the result would be negative in many (possibly most) instances. Does this prove bogus voting?

The fact is that magnetic ink was not ordered in sufficient quantities. But considering that this was the first time it was used in Pakistan (or perhaps anywhere in the world), this cannot really reflect a deep-rooted conspiracy to rig the elections.

The fact also is that magnetic ink is of little use where thumb impressions are smudged, as they frequently are.

Most significantly, Nadra would also fail to verify thumb impressions if the exact CNIC number of the voter was not recorded. Each CNIC has 13 digits and if even one were recorded incorrectly it would not match the Nadra database – which may then create the impression as if a fake CNIC was used for bogus voting. Considering that one does not expect the polling staff to have been diligent in recording CNIC numbers, mistakes of this kind are likely to be rampant.

Lack of Nadra verification is thus no proof of bogus votes. Even in NA1 (where Imran won), we may well discover that unverified votes far exceed the 20,000 odd votes polled by Bilour, who lost by more than 70,000. If the PTI is interested in finding the truth it should look to verify the votes in NA1. It may not be so difficult considering that there are no contesting parties (Imran vacated the seat, and there was a re-election).

So were the elections massively rigged? Do consider the following. One, no less a person than Fakhruddin G Ebrahim headed the commission. Even the PTI welcomed his appointment. Two, all foreign agencies monitoring the elections endorsed the results. Their reservations are only regarding Karachi (where the PTI itself is accused by JI of election fraud, and the election tribunal has even ruled in favour of JI), and interior Sindh and Fata – not where the PML-N won. Three, it was on the demand of the PTI and others that the judiciary was requested by the Election Commission to lend its officers as ROs. Four, there are sufficient checks to prevent bogus voting.

Every constituency has approximately 250-300 polling stations, each with a staff of 4-5 with varying political affiliations. On top of that, each candidate nominates polling agents to supervise the process. To stuff bogus votes without raising alarm is virtually impossible – at least in urban areas.

I was watching the results with friends when one of us received a text from the PTI inner circle at 10:37pm announcing that the PTI had lost all seats in Lahore, including Imran’s, except two. At about 1am, Asad Umar tweeted: “The Chairman is a sportsman, and like a sportsman he knows how to lose!” How did they know the PTI had lost? The Election Commission had still to announce the results. It was the PTI’s own polling agents who told them so.

Where Umar seems to have miscalculated though is that the chairman (alas!) is not a sportsman!

Email: [email protected]

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