LAHORE: The top leadership of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) is said to have given the government the go-ahead to acquiesce to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan’s demand for a full audit of votes cast during the May 2013 election and has resolved to give the PTI a ‘free hand’ for the long march scheduled for August 14, The Express Tribune has learned. The march will be closely scrutinised, however, with the interior minister keeping an eye on the day’s proceedings.
Sources say the party leadership finalised this strategy during a meeting on Wednesday that came on the heels of Imran Khan’s press conference where he called for a comprehensive audit. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan will reportedly deal with the issue of the audit and the long march in the coming days, assisted by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
However, even as the leading party gives in to the PTI’s demands, sources said the audit is expected to be less than fruitful. The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) will carry out forensic analysis of the electoral process and results. Sources said it is likely that during analysis NADRA will face problems due to the quality of ink used on ballots, find it illegible. Thus NADRA will likely refuse to recognise votes and there will be problems with identification of votes. Sources added that forensic analysis is likely to find bogus votes during the audit as well.
The first phase of the audit will focus on K-P and the PTI’s seats there, and sources said the PML-N leadership anticipates that the process will take almost 18 months. Sources said the party leadership also anticipates that the first phase of the process will be declared dubious by the PTI and the results of the audit not accepted.
The audit of votes will hinge upon the momentum gained by the PTI during the long march next month, sources said. The party leadership has reportedly discussed a framework to implement the demand for a full audit of the election.
According to the party’s plan, the government will accept the PTI chief’s demand publicly at a press conference and will then invite the party to weigh in on the audit process.
Sources said that if the PTI agrees, the PML-N will begin the audit from NA1 Peshawar, where Khan won a seat in the general election. Interestingly, most of the first few seats to be audited were won by the PTI. The party won a majority of its seats in the National Assembly from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; while 18 seats were won in K-P, the party snapped up nine NA seats in Punjab and one in Islamabad.
It is pertinent to mention here that in August 2013, the interior minister had offered a forensic analysis of the results of 40 constituencies, including four constituencies where results were contested by the PTI. Chaudhry Nisar also offered to form a parliamentary committee comprising all political parties in the assemblies that alleged electoral fraud in order to finalise analysis in 40 constituencies. The PTI did not accept Nisar’s offer at the time.
Thus the PML-N’s leadership says that the PTI’s demand for a full audit is a mere extension of Nisar’s original offer. At the time, the offer was regarded with suspicion as opposition parties termed it a booby trap.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the PML-N leadership reportedly referred to the PTI as unpredictable and took a decision to closely monitor the long march. The progress of the march will be scrutinised by the interior ministry and Chaudhry Nisar reportedly expects that Imran Khan will be able to shore up close to 50,000 supporters in Islamabad.
State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmed said the party has not yet reached a decision about the long march. He added that the demand for an audit has been relayed to the Election Commission of Pakistan and if it is accepted, the government will move forward as required.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2014.