That there is to be a recount in NA 249 does not reflect election irregularities, so much as the closeness of the result. When the winning margin is five percent or less, there is an automatic recount. Still, that does not mean there was a clean election. There were several thousand irregularities noted, and there was a clear problem with the result reporting mechanism. Prime Minister Imran Khan called for electoral reform, which is not likely to do much to reverse the dismal fifth-place showing of his PTI, which is a nightmarish result for a party that had won the seat at the last general election.
One of the most important features of the by-election was the evidence that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has still not mastered the result-reporting technology it had put in place since the 2018 general election. The software had led to delays in the declaration of results then, and that it did so again shows that the ECP has still not worked out the kinks. If one is to accept the opposition’s narrative that that was the method used to ‘select’ the PTI, the flaw remains. The PTI, instead of redressing that issue, is resting its effort at electoral reform on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). Several countries have tried this particular technology, but it has created more controversies than it has settled.It is (as its name testifies) electronic. Can the ECP take responsibility for conducting a general election using such technology, with all the room it creates, if not necessarily for manipulation, but for allegations by losing parties? The ECP has to realize that its conduct of this by-election has lost it some of the credibility it built by the way it stamped on attempts to rig the NA-175 bypoll.
Another factor which the PTI should consider, and which was implicit in the Opposition Leader’s prompt rejection of Mr Khan’s reform call, is that the Opposition cannot be constantly called thieves and plunders, and then expected to cooperate in taking action on something as basic as election reform. The PTI should not forget that electoral systems are even more basic for politicians than accountability laws, for the latter only matter if the former allow a politician the exercise of power.