One after the other, election tribunals hearing PTI petitions challenging results in three of the four most controversial constituencies – where soon after the elections the party had started demanding vote audit – have annulled the results, ordering fresh polls.
In each case they have pointed out massive irregularities in the conduct of elections. Even though, the Judicial Commission declared the 2013 general elections to be, in large part, fair and in accordance with the law, its report too noted a large number of ‘shortcomings’ in the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) conduct of the electoral exercise, saying the PTI was not entirely unjustified in requesting the establishment of a body to inquire into its suspicions and allegations regarding the general elections. The three tribunals’ verdicts underscore the flaws in the present electoral system.
The issues that raised widespread doubts are too glaring. In a vast majority of cases the form-14 carrying vote count and form-15 carrying the number of ballot papers were found to be missing. The poor quality of ink used for voter thumb impressions has also been generating a lot of controversy; so has the going astray in many constituencies of counterfoils and electoral rolls. Expressing dissatisfaction over the performance of the ECP staff the Judicial Commission report, among other ‘shortcomings’, noted that there was no monitoring wing in the ECP; and that, there seemed to be no way for the ECP of knowing whether or not its directions were being implemented.
In cancelling the results after more than two years (which in itself is a violation of rules since the system is required to deliver justice within four months), the tribunals have not blamed anyone of resorting to rigging. Yet whether there were irregularities or shortcomings, they did influence the outcome, as has now been established, at least in the hotly contested four constituencies.
In any case, the present electoral process has proved to be inadequate, raising doubts in the public mind about it. The people are concerned more about what they see than what might have tainted the result.
In the present instances the ruling party candidates may be the beneficiaries, but irregularities could have worked in other parties’ favour too. As a matter of fact, almost all the parties have been complaining against their respective opponents for resorting to rigging.
The issue therefore is not which side won or lost, but that the electoral system lacks the ability to hold fair and free polls. The PTI is laying the entire blame on the four members of the Provincial Election Commission, Punjab, demanding that they step down. The PPP is also supporting the demand. Apart from scoring points against a political opponent, these parties need to devote time and attention to the deliberations of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms.
The irregularities and the shortcomings pointing out by tribunals and the judicial commission call for putting in place effective measures to ensure fair elections in the future.