Though marred by the allegations of pre-poll ‘engineering’ and post-poll manipulation, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) eventually succeeded in holding ‘free, fair and transparent’ general elections in the country on July 25. In these polls, the pro-change PTI just outperformed its primary political competitor PML(N), a party which has ruled Pakistan thrice. PTI has emerged as the single largest party, which is now capable of forming its government at the federal level and in the KP province. On the other hand, PML(N) and PPP are the leading parties in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh respectively. At present, PTI is also confident of forming its government in Punjab with the support of its political allies and independent members. One of the important aspects of these elections has been the utter electoral failure of the religio-political parties in the country. MMA, the five-party far-right religious alliance couldn’t succeed in securing the significant public mandate. Similarly, TLP, another ultraconservative religio-political party could succeed in securing only two provincial assembly seats in Sindh. However, though being not in a position to rule, PML(N) has somehow succeeded in retaining its political significance and relevance in Pakistan against all odds.
The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) has expressed satisfaction over the July 25 election process. Similarly, terming the overall election results “credible”, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has generally praised the ECP’s role in the conduct of recent elections in Pakistan. However, EU EOM has also said that “although there were several legal provisions aimed at ensuring a level playing field, there was a lack of quality of opportunity provided to contesting parties”. The United States has also expressed almost similar reservations about these elections in Pakistan. Besides this, all the losing political parties, including PML(N), have also jointly rejected the results of these polls. It is a fact that the results of every general election in the country have been quite controversial. Regrettably, holding a controversial election has now become a hallmark of the ECP. We saw a massive protest by PTI against the alleged electoral rigging in the country following the 2013 General Elections. PTI openly and actively disputed the credibility and fairness of those elections.
The controversies regarding the recent general elections in Pakistan are largely revolving around the instant collapse of the Results Transmission System (RTS) besides a large number of rejected votes in some constituencies. The much-hyped RTS introduced by ECP this year eventually proved to be a damp squib. Earlier, the ECP’s intended plan to introduce Electronic Voting machines (EVMs) and Biometric Voting Machines also failed at the testing stage. Ironically, the flawed RTS, which was introduced to transmit and announce election results speedily and efficiently, became the primary factor for an inordinate delay in the announcement of election results by the ECP this time. So ECP couldn’t announce 100% election results even after 24 hours following the closing of polling process. The media and losing candidates just overplayed this delay. Moreover, there are also several constituencies where a large number of votes were rejected by the polling officers. There are also many constituencies where these invalid votes just surpassed the winning margin. Now many losing parties are also drawing intended inferences from this apparent correlation between the invalid votes and the winning margin. Similarly, many candidates, who have lost elections by a thin margin, have also applied to the concerned Returning Officers (RO) for a vote recount. In the absence of a definite criterion for a vote recount devised by the ECP, ROs are deciding this crucial matter arbitrarily across the country, giving rise to more electoral controversies.
In fact, most of the current electoral controversies are being largely viewed against the backdrop of the perceived political engineering, which has been in progress in Pakistan for a year or so. Therefore, these controversies have instantly gained currency in the country following these polls. Currently, losing political parties are also trying to put a spin on these controversies to dispute the credibility of these polls. Unfortunately, ECP, which is supposed to put an end to these sorts of controversies, has just become a tool to reinforce these electoral controversies in the country. Despite spending billions of rupees on the electoral and polling process, it often fails in holding credible polls. Recently, there have been many complaints about the insufficient election material, especially the Form-45, a prescribed printed paper which is used to prepare, compile and declare election results at a specific polling station by a presiding officers. It is advisable that ECP should rely on the conventional methods of conducting elections and compiling results rather than trying some unverified and untried modern techniques to dispute and delay the election results.
The PML(N)’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) has formally demanded the formation of a judicial commission to probe into rigging allegations after terming the recent elections the most controversial polls in the country’s history. It has also announced that it would issue a white paper on the pre-poll and post-poll rigging after collecting reports and evidence from across the country. Earlier on Friday, making a demand for transparent re-election, the multi-party conference held in Islamabad announced that a joint protest movement would be launched against the rigging and massive irregularities in the elections. All of these parties, except PML(N), agreed that their candidates wouldn’t take oath for the membership of the newly-formed assemblies. Ironically, most of these political leaders, who are now favoring boycotting assemblies, have already lost their personal seats in the recent polls. Therefore, there is no question of taking oath at all as far as their personal position is concerned. PML(N) is currently the second largest parliamentary party in the country. Historically, this party is not known for any kind of agitational politics. At this stage, boycotting assemblies would be politically fatal for PML(N). Therefore, it is very unlikely that PML(N) would boycott the newly-formed assemblies. This troubled party will certainty be part of the new Parliament to get some legal concessions for its jailed supremo Nawaz Sharif as well as other leaders who are currently being probed by the accountability agencies.
As a matter of fact, no ‘grand opposition alliance’ in Pakistan has ever succeeded in achieving its desired goal. The security establishment has been exploiting these sorts of political movements and agitations to establish its institutional superiority over the civilian regimes. Similarly, without a covert support from this powerful institution, none of such movements has ever gained momentum. It is quite obvious that PTI is enjoying support from both the establishment and the superior judiciary. Therefore, political parties in the new opposition alliance would fail in launching any significant protest movement against the PTI government.
At present, PTI is in a comfortable position to form its government at the federal level. However, it is not yet clear which political party will head the government in Punjab. If PML(N) succeeds in forming government in Punjab, there would be a political mess owing to the confrontation between the two arch-rival political parties. Pakistan is a federation. After the 18th amendment passed by the Parliament in 2010, now provinces exclusively deal with the matters directly involving the welfare of the masses ranging from health, education, law and order to the infrastructure development and the local government institutions. Punjab is the largest province in the country. It is a fact that PML(N) has been ruling Pakistan for decades on account if its performance and delivery in Punjab province. This ‘Punjab factor’ must not be overlooked by any aspiring political party. To me, the slot of CM Punjab is by no means less significant than that of the premiership. PTI is definitely not going to form its government in Sindh. Therefore, if PTI succeeds in forming a government in Punjab, it should nominate the most dynamic, experienced and competent individual for this slot rather than any sycophant. Otherwise, the PTI’s intended agenda to introduce some extensive socioeconomic reforms in the country, as recently announced by Kaptaan in his ‘victory speech’, would end up in a frustrating fiasco.
The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.