Electoral transparency and Imran Khan

It has become fashionable in Pakistan for every losing candidate to level rigging charges as groundsfor defeat

Imran Khan has been in politics for the last 18 years. Despite his personal charisma, built on his cricketing career, he was unable to make any significant headway until last year’s general elections, the credit for which goes to his successful campaigning beginning from his October 30, 2012, address to the election rally in Lahore. After the announcement of the date of the general elections on May 11, 2013, he remained busy with the organisation of his party at the local and district level by holding party elections that he could not complete in time.He had to, therefore, award party tickets randomly to candidates who did not fulfill the criteria set by the party. This was the main reason, according to his own admission,for his failure to achieve the estimated number of seats. Another important reason behind his accepting the results of the elections of 2013 was that, despite his botched preparation for the election, he had obtained a sizable number of seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to form a government. Had there been planned rigging of the election, he would not have been able to get a comfortable majority in one province nor would the ruling PML-N have been a loser in all three provinces other than Punjab.

For the first time in the history of this country, Chief Election Commissioner Mr Fakharuddin G Ibrahim,a man of un-impeachable integrity,was unanimously appointed with the consent of all the political parties and the entire election was conducted under his close supervision. Thus, except for random incidents of irregularityat some polling stations (a normal and not willfully planned occurrence), the elections wereby and large adjudged by all local and international agencies as fair and transparent.The general impression in the public was also one of relief and satisfaction. Imran Khan also acquiesced in the results and, as MNA, took solemn oath under Article 65 to always faithfully uphold the constitution.

The elections were held under a caretaker government and, therefore, it is highly unlikely that any single party could have benefitted from large-scale rigging nor that any one party was able to manipulate the results in its favour. There was also no element of surprise implicit in the results, as it was nearly in line with all local and international opinion polls. Thus, the demand for fresh elections is without foundation. The aggrieved party could seek remedy through the election tribunals,composed of retired judges of the high courts and appointed not by the Election Commission of Pakistan(ECP) but by the respective chief justices of the high courts.

Following the rules of the game, the PTI filed 58 petitions challenging the national and provincial assemblies’ seats, out of which 39 petitions (70 percent) have already been decided by the tribunals, in which not a single petition by PTI candidates could successfully substantiate the allegations of rigging. The remaining 19 petitions by the PTI are still pending; even if they succeed, they would not materially affect the results of the election. The government’s un-warranted role in manipulating things in its favour to save the originally four contested seats has exposed its Achilles’heel, and has made it hostage in the inexorable hands of destiny.Now this blood, as it were, like the blood found on the hands of Macbeth, cannot be washed clean even if dipped in the seven seas.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that the present government cannot be disbanded merely on the grounds of rigging. At best, re-elections for some of the seats can be heldas earlier demanded by Imran Khan, plus the four seats on which the government’s credentials are palpably questionable.However, all this will be in order only if, as the result of a judicial enquiry the charges of rigging are proved, otherwise re-election for every seat lost by the PTI on a whimsical basis would be a farce. What has gone fundamentally wrong is that there is no cogent method to prove rigging in the absence of a foolproof method of recounting based on the thumb verification of voters.

Much of the confusion that prevails today (and after every election) is due to rigging charges. It has become fashionable in Pakistan for every losing candidate to level rigging charges as groundsfor defeat. The present manual voting system is the real culprit; even if held fairly, elections haveroom for mistrust and suspicionbecause of this inherent weakness.I wonder why this aspect, necessary for transparent polls, is not given the due weight it deserves.Billions of rupees are spent on projects that this poor country can ill-afford but why is spending on the introduction of a biometric system for holding transparently foolproof electionsconsidered such a big deal? Needless to say, fair and transparent elections are the anchor of any democratic setup.

In the present campaign by Imran Khan, it must not be overlooked that the one point he capitalises on most is the enormous number of unverified voters in most of the polling stations.That is why the biometric system is the only answer to this malaise.This system is not completely alien to Pakistan. The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) has already introduced this it in its civil registry system and it is widely used for citizen identification. The same registry system was also used for the first time to compile electoral rolls for the last general election. The greatest advantage of biometric technology is that it eliminates multiple registrations and makes thumb verification flawlessly easy. During the last general elections, in the recount of votes in two national assembly and seven provincial assembly seats, the use of biometric thumb verification revealed that, in one constituency (NA 256) 60,000 out of 83,000votes were bogus.

Forensic verification by NADRA revealed that one person had cast as many as 35 votes. Further thumb verification resulted in the harassment of NADRA’s ex-chairman by the government and the scandal put the entire election in doubt. This undermined public confidence in the integrity of elections and democracy in Pakistan.The people generally started to believe that influential people had again gotten away with stealing the public’s mandate. Thus, we need to revamp the entire process of the elections, possible only if recounting is accurately and securely done. There is no reason why it cannot be effectively introduced in Pakistan when countries like Nepal, India, Kenya, South Africa and Ghana have already adopted it. The hurdles, if any, in its adoption must come from powerful people for whom entry into the corridors of power would otherwise be an elusive dream.


The writer is a former member of the provincial civil service and can be reached
at zafar.aziz.ch@gmail.com