To say that the NA-75 Daska bypoll, fiercely contested by the PTI and PML-N, was mired with irregularities would be an understatement given the events that unfolded on voting day. Although this was not the first time in the country that an attempt to alter the outcome of a crucial election was made, the fact that it was done in such a blatant and shameless manner, during the daytime with the media keeping a close watch is a new low for an electoral system that did not inspire much confidence to begin with. An intentionally slow pace of voter processing, police seizing empty ballots and missing presiding officers, upon whose reemergence the PTI candidate’s votes miraculously increased by 21%, were just some of the many irregularities and fraud that were reported. While the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has halted the release of results pending an inquiry, the PML-N is calling for a reelection and the PTI is claiming victory. The statement issued by the ECP stating that the results in 20 polling stations had been falsified and that during voting the Punjab IG of police and chief secretary were simply unreachable when the ECP was seeking their help to get the situation under control, is a testament to the level of rigging that took place. Just like the Supreme Court, the ECP too is a constitutional body and therefore it cannot simply be ignored, especially since its mandate to ensure free and fair elections is the bedrock of our democracy.
It is unfortunate that over the past many decades the ECP has failed to discharge its duties effectively, which is why it is often perceived as a toothless institution that rarely follows through with inquiries into electoral illegalities committed by political parties and candidates. The PTI foreign funding case is nowhere near to reaching any logical conclusion after dragging on for over six years and uncountable hearings. A federal cabinet minister who concealed his dual nationality when contesting the 2018 elections now faces a disqualification case but refuses to appear before the ECP. Unless the ECP conducts a thorough and meaningful investigation into the Daska episode that identifies the culprits who are charged and sentenced in a court of law, confidence in elections will remain shaken.