- Does it even matter?
Fine, you win. I’ll assume for now that rigging did not happen in the general election, contrary to popular understanding. Let us assume for the time being that reports of voting agents being illegally forced to leave their stations, are all false. Let us assume that videos of stamped ballots lying around in Karachi’s garbage dumps, are a hoax.
For the Insaafian’s comfort, we’ll simply ignore all indicators of deceit either directly through manipulation of votes, or indirectly through discrimination against anti-establishment candidates. For now, let us quietly accept the locution that this happens in every election, and it’s hypocritical to challenge these problems now that the PTI has finally won. In other words, let us embrace election irregularities as a Pakistani ‘rawaj’ (tradition) and just get on with the program.
For the remainder of this column, I’ll concede that PTI won fair and square. But if not PTI, somebody must be blamed for the plethora of technical problem, odd choices, and shady maneuvers that marred this election.
I won’t discuss the general concern about an election in which PTI’s arch-rivals are either in prison or preoccupied in NAB offices. There are plenty of other serious irregularities to draw attention to, over which Senator Raza Rabbani the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for its “criminal silence”. Several banned groups were permitted to contest the election, including three candidates who are presently on the US terror watch list. There’s also the matter of soldiers being stationed inside the polling stations, which is unusual. “At first, the ECP kept saying that soldiers would be deployed outside polling stations. Now it’s saying they will be also be deployed inside. What is the reason for their being stationed inside?” Rabbani asked.
Overall, however, EU observers have declared that the conditions for fair elections have worsened relative to last year
The technical difficulties included ridiculously long delays in vote-counting – appearing almost as if they weren’t being counted, as much as they were being vigorously bargained and debated upon. At first, ECP’s Result Transmission System (RTS) crashed, leaving the nation scratching its heads. This happened after only 25,000 out of 85,000 polling stations had handed in their results. This ‘glitch’ was not unexpected, as three days before the election, the Returning Officers from numerous polling stations had reported serious technical faults – which were apparently ignored.
The results were announced after days of delay in some constituencies. The general impression among public is that constituencies in which results were delayed ended up favouring one particular party, but as promised above, I’ll refrain from digging into that matter.
The most egregious of all is the hair-raising number of votes that were rejected. A whopping 1,663,039 votes were declared invalid by the ECP. More than half of these were from Balochistan – our poorest and most under-represented province. In over 30 constituencies (some independent are sources reporting more than 40), the number of rejected votes is larger than the victory margin.
Why were these votes rejected? In a democratic system where each stamped ballot is the indispensible will of a citizen, this is a harrowing situation. If more than a million Pakistanis were deprived of their voting rights simply over technicalities, we are all owed answers.
One of the reasons for rejection is, of course, improper vote-casting; including double-stamping, damaged ballot, misplaced stamp mark, or other errors. Whose job is to ensure that these errors do not occur in such high numbers? Is it the citizen’s responsibility to take an online course on how to properly stamp a ballot; how to fold it in a special way so that the wet ink doesn’t leave a print on another box; and how to put each ballot in its right box? Who, if not ECP, is entrusted with guiding the voters and designing a system that minimises these problems?
Such high number of vote rejections is a scandal in its own right, even before we begin lancing accusations of deliberate rigging at one organisation or another.
General election is a national event of utmost importance that happens once every five years unless, well, something else happens to the government. How many of us who proudly displayed their ink-stained thumbs on the 25th of July, are certain if their votes were even considered? How many of us stood for hours in line at the polling stations, only to produce paper garbage?
What happened to my vote? I’m not even sure. I’m hoping it was counted, because Punjab technically had the smallest proportion of rejected votes. Overall, however, EU observers have declared that the conditions for fair elections have worsened relative to last year. And last year’s condition, lest we’re forgetting, sparked a months-long ‘dharna’.
Perhaps PTI is not to be blamed, but then who is? Who is going to step up and claim responsibility for the chaos and mass-confusion this election season? How do we evolve past this ‘rawaj’ of technical errors, sinister delays, intervention by unidentified agencies, and alleged rigging?