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June 21, 2018

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Elections 2018: 22 rigging techniques

ISLAMABAD: Keeping in view the past practices, at least 22 techniques of rigging are feared to be adopted during the 2018 General Election.

Past instances and current developments suggest that seven different methodologies of pre-poll rigging, at least 12 practices for polling day rigging and three post poll rigging strategies are being or can be adopted.

Pre-Poll Rigging Techniques:

1)- Among the first pre-poll rigging strategy is asking politicians to quit one party and join another party or to contest elections as an independent candidate. This objective is achieved by using two strategies; first is by giving or promising favourites in shape of money or handsome jobs for close ones of such candidates in the government sector as well as in “private” organisations. If the objective is not achieved through first strategy, second strategy is adopted which includes harassing and threatening those who refuse to fall in line. While executing the second strategy, practical steps are taken.

From the past precedents, according to many published reports, many candidates admitted that they were pressured to quit one party and join the then ‘Kings party’ PML-Q. One, Ihtisham Zamir, who was carrying this operation of changing loyalties, later admitted the same. Not only this, former president Pervaiz Musharraf also said during an interview that head of a political party was asking him for many seats before 2002 elections but he was told he could not be given so many seats. This clearly pointed towards the fact that whole process was maundered.

2)- In the second pre-poll rigging strategy of micro-level management which was rarely adopted in past, community leaders and small local groups leaders or active members of civil society are “asked” not to support unwanted political party and to support another political party. In case of refusal, such local leaders are subjected to threats, intimidation and even physical attacks. Accountability institutions and law enforcement agencies are also used against such people for made-up or fake charges who refuse to obey the orders. An election can be rigged to fifty percent by force by adopting these first two pre-poll rigging strategies. Independent or foreign observers can examine which of these strategies are being adopted on ground at present.

3)- The third pre-poll rigging strategy includes using religious card, inciting people belonging to certain religious groups, feeding them with false and untrue information and baseless facts and financing them to incite hatred against strong political party or simply get vote on basis of hate slogans and by spreading sectarian hate in the society so to break/divide vote bank of strong political party in that constituency.

4)- The fourth pre-poll rigging strategy is to use some controlled media anchors to spread falsehood, misrepresenting achievements of political governments and spinning or twisting facts or unfolding wrongs and mischiefs of eras of dictatorship like loadshedding of electricity and gas and terrorism, etc. This is the most effective propaganda tool for pre-poll rigging. Hired social media teams are also used to propagate wrong facts and figures and for the misrepresentation of achievements of the politicians instead of highlighting some real weaknesses or criticising certain policies.

5)- Getting nomination papers of unwanted politicians rejected if they refuse to fall in line is also another strategy of pre-poll rigging. Getting nomination papers of some weak candidates having issues with their credentials accepted is also a technique used to make certain candidates fall in line.

6)- Late distribution of ballot papers and polling material to polling stations of specific important constituencies where competition is expected to be tough between the unwanted political party and favourit political party is also another technique to control or manoeuvre things.

7)- Past instances show that the seventh pre-poll rigging technique can be the silence of relevant ECP officials over violation of important clauses of Code of Conduct like using pictures of government officials like heads of institutions of judiciary and defence on their banners and posters, levelling unverified allegations against opponent political parties and politicians, and using religious card and defaming political parties and candidates using religious believes by presenting wrong and twisted facts. Point 46 and 47 of elections 2018 reads; “46- Criticism of other political parties and opponent candidates shall be confined to their policies and programmes, past record and work. Parties and candidates shall refrain from criticism of any aspect of private life, not connected with the public activities of the leaders or workers of other parties. Criticism based on unverified allegations and distortion of facts shall be avoided.” 47- The political parties, contesting candidates, election agents and their supporters shall refrain from deliberate dissemination of false and malicious information and shall not indulge in forgeries and disinformation to defame other political parties/leaders. The use of abusive language against the leaders and candidates shall be avoided at all costs.”

Whereas the last line of point-61 reads, “The violation of code of conduct shall entail punitive action i.e. declaring an election void for corrupt/illegal practices.”

Given past precedents, it is feared that the point 61 will not be implemented in letter and spirit despite clear violations and no punitive action of declaring an election void for corrupt/illegal practices will be initiated.

Polling Day Rigging Techniques:

8)- The first polling day rigging technique, keeping in view the recent precedents, can be the “go slow strategy” in targeted polling stations of some crucial constituencies where unwanted political party may have big support base.

9)- Unnecessary checks and obstacles created during the polling process are an effective and tactical toll to make the polling process slow.

For example, the election law doesn’t allow voters’ verification by security staff guarding the entry gates of polling stations but it was done recently. Such authentication can be legally done more effectively and accurately by the polling personnel and agents of the all contesting candidates, sitting close to the ballot boxes.

By using this technique, large queues of voters are made to wait while a security person is checking the CNIC of the voter and matching his/her details from the polling list of that polling station while standing outside the gate of the polling station. However, when a voter enters in the polling station, his name is announced loudly and polling agents of all political parties check polling lists of that polling station, verify the face of the voter and cross his/her name. When this process is carried out inside the polling station, where the security personnel are also present, the outside check and a complete verification from the polling list is only a strategy to achieve objective of slowing down the voting process.

Still, if such a check or verification by the security staff is too important, the security men deputed inside polling station can carry out the same when the name of a voter will be announced loudly upon his/her entry in the polling room. The security staff deputed inside the polling station can carry the polling list of that polling station and can verify the identity of the voters in a professional way and without wasting any time just like being done by the polling agents of all the contesting political parties sitting there. The security staff deputed outside should only maintain order, queues of voters and check them for security purposes.

Similarly, many persons including journalists and independent observers authorized by ECP to enter in polling stations and witness polling process were also barred from entering in polling stations in recent incident. This is clearly done to avoid proper monitoring and possible catching some rigging instances.

10)- The third polling day rigging strategy can be making impossible for the polling agents of unwanted political parties deputed on some targeted polling station of some important constituencies to reach in time. Past instances show that polling agents were even kidnapped by the rivals.

11)- Even polling staff deputed on some key polling stations, where polling of a large number of votes in favour of some unwanted party or candidate is expected, can be made to reach late to delay whole process. This will be extremely helpful to achieve the objective and this technique has been used many times in the past.

12)- Another technique recently adopted by the security personnel deputed outside the polling station was to illegally send back voters holding the slips, containing vote numbers in the electoral rolls, of a particular political party, issued by its camps, on the fallacious ground that their names do not appear in the voters’ lists. However, when the same voters brought the slips from another political party from its camps set up outside the polling stations after a few minutes, they were allowed to cast their ballots at the same stations. This must be stopped this time by allowing security personnel deputed outside the polling stations to only check the voters for security purposes.

13)- Another polling day rigging technique adopted recently was not to let several voters to go inside the polling stations according to the capacity of these places, saying that there was no space inside. If only a very small number of voters are permitted to get into the stations, the whole process will tremendously slow down, forcing many to go without casting their ballots. The ECP must ensure that this technique to slow down overall polling process cannot be adopted on July 25, 2018.

14)- Generally, before the closing time for polling all the voters standing in the queue are permitted to come inside the polling station and then its doors are closed for others coming after that. A polling day rigging strategy adopted recently was that multitudes of voters were not allowed to get into the stations even before the polling time reached. The standard practice of allowing all those in queues outside the gate of a polling station at the closing time should be followed in letter and spirit and ECP must ensure that this may not happen against on polling day on some targeted polling stations where unwanted political party may have a large number of votes.

15)- The closing time of voting is 5:00pm and ECP can extend the time. However, this must be decided in advance whether time will be increased or not. As some of the politicians fear that same decision can be taken in view of the initial voting trends and such a decision to extend or not to extend the time may be taken under some extreme pressure on the crucial polling day of elections 2018. So same must be decided in advance to ensure transparency and justice.

16)- Harassing and kidnapping of some key campaigners of unwanted political party was a terrible technique adopted recently. A political party largely depends on its key and active campaigners who are known personalities. Such key campaigners representing some unwanted political party can be harassed or kidnapped. ECP should take all possible steps to stop direct rigging to achieve desired results.

17)- Taking possession of polling stations by the security personnel in advance and complete occupation of all the rooms of a building to be used as polling station after one or two days and not allowing anybody to visit those rooms, was also criticised. Such a practice is against principles of transparency. ECP should allow security personnel inside the polling station only early morning of polling day. The security personnel should be allowed to go only in space specified for polling activity. The polling station can be checked one day in advance but in presence of media and representatives of all political parties to ensure transparency. In case of early occupation of polling stations, there are fears of changing of ballot boxes near the closing time of the polling by creating some untoward situation inside some of the targeted polling stations. It will be easy to know how many votes have been polled by that time and ballot boxes filled with already printed and stamped ballot papers carrying signatures of presiding officers as well can be put in place of original ballot boxes at a time when some kind of disturbance is created in the polling room. In an atmosphere of fear and intimidation at some places, no one will be able to report actual happenings.

18)- There are also fears of fake loadshedding of electricity in some targeted areas near or on the polling station which will also be an effective technique.

19)- Not allowing mobile phones inside the polling stations is also criticised. Many instances of poling day rigging came to public knowledge with video evidence because of recording of such activities by using mobile phones. Allowing mobile phones inside the polling station can be deterrence against many polling day rigging techniques. Only excuse presented is that people will make video of ballot papers while casting their votes and will take money in return and that this is against the sanctity and secrecy of vote. This at one side is a big humiliation of ordinary people of Pakistan while on the other hand transparency is compromised and many possibilities to make evidence of rigging are wasted. People should be trusted. They can be asked to follow rules and to respect the sanctity and secrecy of their vote by not making picture or video of the ballot papers but what is the philosophy behind the firm decision of not allowing mobile phones inside polling stations?

Post Poll rigging techniques:

20)- Not allowing independent candidates or smaller parties by using threats and intimidation to join unwanted party and pressuring them to support favourit candidate for the top slot is a post-poll rigging strategy adopted at times in past as well.

21)- Frivolous election petitions may come on scene against some winning candidates with the threat that they can be disqualified ultimately so they should support certain favourit candidate for the top slot.

22)- Keeping in view the past precedents, it is also feared that even in case of top position of unwanted political party, certain winning candidate of that party can be threatened and coerced to quit the party and join some alliance.

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