“If you don’t stick to your values when they are being tested, they’re not values, they’re hobbies.” – Jon Stewart.
For there to be more transparency and access to the media in all government matters is a principle that should be held on to regardless of how messy it becomes. Much like democracy itself, come to think of it. Democracy is neither neat nor clean, but we have to roll up our sleeves and put our shoulders to the task.
Allowing the media to report the preliminary results in elections is another such mess. The television channels started broadcasting lists of leads at as early of the count as one percent of the total votes of constituency. Which means that a lead of merely one vote at a single polling station would be etched on the scorecard of a particular political party.
By the time a paltry 26% of the ballots were counted, there was a consensus of sorts over the victory of the PTI. Conspiracy theorists suggest that this is how the Boys can game the system. Get the preferred party to a particular level, eke out an impression, and then throw out the polling agents at the remaining stations, which many of the parties are alleging is what happened.
During the 2013 elections, PTI chief Imran Khan had complained – in all earnestness – that his party was winning till early evening and then they started losing by the night, which was evidence of their being something wrong. To uninformed viewers, the votes tally would seem like a trend that is following a sequence, not realising that the tally can drastically change within even a 10 percent increase in counting.
This constant reportage engenders ideas about foul play.
One approach could be for the ECP to bar media reportage of truncated tallies. For them to allow the broadcast of unofficial results only when they are counted completely. Specially in a polity with a nascent democratic process and plenty of well-founded reasons to cast doubts about the process.
Alas, this approach would run counter to our core values and a principled aversion to opacity. The media should be allowed to report even the first vote tallied. They could be instructed by Pemra and the ECP to announce the lists not as “bagged seats” but as “constituencies leading in”, which, to the media’s credit, it did.