Despite some shortcomings on the part of the election commission, the 2013 general elections were largely organised and conducted fairly in accordance with the law, the inquiry commission tasked with investigating the polls has ruled.
In its 237-page report issued on Thursday, the three-judge panel observed that the evidence presented before the commission, and overall, did not suggest the previous elections were not a fair reflection of the mandate given by the electorate despite lapses of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
However, the judges were of the view the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was not entirely unjustified in requesting the formation of a body to inquire its suspicions about the 2013 elections.
The Imran Khan-led party alleging widespread rigging in the previous general elections had launched a massive protest campaign against the government last August, forcing the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on the back foot. While the sit-in was called off after the tragic Peshawar school attack, the Nawaz Sharif-led government agreed to the PTI’s demand for a judicial investigation into poll rigging.
After 39 hearings in 86 days, the commission headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk and comprising Justice Amir Hani Muslim and Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan had completed the inquiry and reserved its judgment on July 3.
In the report, the judges recommended the ECP should consider holding elections in Karachi under army supervision keeping in view the prevailing law and order in the port city, unless the situation dramatically improves by the time of the next election.
Regarding the huge number of excess ballots and absence of Form-XV in some constituencies of Punjab, the commission believed there was no evidence that unused ballots were misused. Rejecting the PTI’s stance, the judges said the issues of extra ballot papers and missing Form-XV could hardly indicate any design or plan to manipulate poll results.
The Form-XV were found missing from ballot boxes throughout the country and did not disclose any kind of pattern. The failure to complete or properly complete the forms was found to be more likely on account of negligence and poor training on the part of the presiding officers as opposed to any mala fide intention.
The commission observed a number of shortcomings in both organising and conducting the 2013 elections. The ECP did not seem to have any way of knowing how things were progressing on the ground either prior to the election or on Election Day. There was a lack of planning regarding the determination of extra ballot papers and the method of calculating the number of excess ballots was not uniform throughout the country.
The judges reported that the ECP did not have a monitoring wing. The body had no effective system of monitoring whether or not its directives were being implemented on the ground. The ECP needs to build its own capacity in terms of human resources and recruit and train more officers who can both act as master trainers and play an active, effective and informed role during the election process, the commission recommended.
The report also pointed out that the ECP was responsible for keeping the post-election material in safe custody. The storage space was apparently inadequate, as the manner in which the polling bags were kept was totally disorganised and haphazard. There were chances of people entering the sealed rooms and interfering with the stored post-election material, as the stamp paper was also kept in the same storage rooms.
In Balochistan, doubts were raised on only four provincial assembly seats out of 51 and none of the 14 National Assembly seats. These allegations, therefore, only represented a small number of seats for the entire province, the report stated.
The judicial panel, however, agreed with the ECP that in areas where the law and order situation was difficult it was better to hold polling rather than to give in to the miscreants.
The commission states that in Karachi aberrations were pointed out on 27 of the 35 seats that represented a small number of seats for the entire Sindh, which has 191 combined NA and PA seats.
The judges reported that the voter turnout had no particular correlation to the fairness of an election in a country like Pakistan, where it is not compulsory to vote. A low voter turnout can be for many reasons apart from the law and order situation, for example indifference of the voter.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2015.