The judicial commission investigating allegations of electoral rigging/irregularities in the 2013 general elections is trying to touch all bases so that no aspect of the issue remains unaddressed.
As per the PTI request, opening of sealed election bags has been ordered for the retrieval of Form-15 from polling stations in each national and provincial assembly constituency. That may appear to be a laborious, time-consuming task considering that as many as 140,000 documents from 70,000 polling stations are to be checked by the June 8 deadline.
But the Election Commission has agreed to have the exercise completed within the given timeframe with the help of district judges. The Form-15, a copy of which is put in special sealed bags accompanying ballot bags and other material, is so important because it carries the vote count for each polling station after excluding the rejected votes.
The counsel for PTI was given the choice either to accept the documents provided by the returning officers available with the ECP or go for the opening of sealed bags, and accept whatever information is revealed. Clearly, the commission did not want to give the party any excuse to complain later. Although, the focus of the inquiry is whether or not organized rigging took place in favour of one political party, almost all players have been crying foul. Presumably, influential candidates from different parties resorted to unfair means wherever opportunity presented itself.
PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan, whose wife contested the Lahore NA-124, last January issued a ‘white paper’ on alleged rigging, claiming that seals of 107 bags out of 264 bags were broken, while 38 bags were never sealed. It would not be surprising if the present exercise leads to similar results.
In fact, earlier this month an election tribunal annulled the result of NA-125 and PP-155 ordering re-polling (since stayed on SC orders) noting that although the complainant had failed to establish rigging, irregularities were found which raised doubts about the result.
Opening of the election bags for scrutiny could validate reports of widespread irregularities, if not rigging. What needs to be established is the scale of ‘irregularities’. Small indiscretions here and there can be expected considering that elections in this country have been an infrequent event. To make a bad situation worse, the returning officers reportedly changed the polling staff shortly before the Election Day, creating problems for all involved.
However, if irregularities are of a magnitude that could alter the complexion of the Parliament and provincial assemblies it would give rise to legitimacy questions. The issue needs to be resolved once and for all not only to end the controversy surrounding the last elections but also to set things right for the future. It is good to see therefore the judicial commission order opening of all the election bags so all troublesome questions are properly answered.
The Text has been appeared in the Editorial of Business Recorder Today.