The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is adamant in its denial of any mistakes made on its part and continues to reiterate that these elections were “free, fair and transparent”. Mr Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad, Secretary ECP, has reaffirmed this belief, conveniently choosing to not take any blame for his organisation and has rejected the call for resignation of senior employees of ECP, instead passing the buck on to political parties that disagree with the results, asking them to accept the mandate of the people.
While the leadership of the electoral regulatory body has been quick to establish that the elections and their results were not manipulated, their defence on why the Result Transmission System (RTS) failed, why certain polling agents were thrown out during counts, or why the Form 45 was held in various areas has been shaky or non-existent depending on the specific charge. And at this point, we have not even begun to address the more serious allegations of election officers being thrown out of polling booths at the behest of security officials and the obvious pre-poll rigging that took place before the elections were even carried out. Party loyalties aside, the obvious marginalisation of PML-N electoral candidates at the hands of the establishment, the media blackouts, and the court cases all point in the direction of one party being side-lined to favour another.
And then we have the damning statement from National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) officials that stated that the RTS did not break down at all, it was functioning smoothly until someone in the ECP decided to switch it off for unknown reasons. The ECP has yet to issue a rebuttal to this claim, but a turf war between the two government offices is to be expected, followed by a lot of blame being thrown around on both sides. One thing that is clear however is that ECP officials do not come out of this looking pretty.
Let’s make one thing clear, RTS or no RTS, the job of conducting free, fair and transparent elections lies solely with the ECP. Nadra, security officials or any other government institution are not responsible nor are they liable in the case of any allegations being made against the conducted elections. However, there is an argument to be made regarding the role of ECP mandated security officials; if any of the discrepancies were a result of interference at the hands of the establishment, then there must also be an investigation regarding this, although in Pakistan, this is highly unlikely. With other government institutions eliminated from the issue of where the blame lies, we come back to the ECP yet again. If all parties except for the leading one are rejecting the results, or at the very least, asserting that irregularities existed, then it is the job of Mr Yaqoob and the ECP to take these allegations seriously.
Issuing vociferous denials and rejecting the call for resignation does not cut it; if anything it fuels suspicions regarding the ECP’s complicity in engineering certain results based on a hidden agenda. Mr Yaqoob and other members of the senior leadership in the ECP should introspect and resign on their own, and lead the call for investigations to get their own names and that of their institution cleared.
In the interest of democracy, it is important to let the new government, led by Imran Khan’s PTI, form and rule for the next five years, ensuring that the democratic process continues and is not derailed as a result of mass agitation at the hands of the opposition parties. Thankfully, the opposition parties have come to the same conclusion. But it is also equally important to carefully and properly examine the claims of rigging and determine whether the obvious problems in the elections this year were a result of incompetence or outright manipulation.
As any professional knows, an accusation against their integrity usually means that a resignation must be tendered preceding any investigation that takes place. If the stance of the ECP officials stands vindicated after an independent investigation, they can rest easy knowing they did nothing wrong willingly. But if this is not the case, trial and punishment must follow. The outright refusal to resign, if anything, points to a lack of integrity and in the case of an organisation that by law is to conduct elections fairly and without any manipulation, this is criminal.
Let PTI rule, let everything else continue as it is, but in the interest of the democracy the ECP looks to protect, heads must roll at the Election Commission of Pakistan if any wrongdoing is found. Five years down the line, we will (hopefully) have another democratic transition and the same mistakes cannot be repeated the second time around. We must do better next time. But from the way things are looking and from the reaction of Mr Yaqoob and others at the ECP, it seems that they will staunchly oppose any move that looks to investigate where and why this institution and its leadership failed.
The writer is a former member of staff.
Mr Yaqoob and other members of the senior leadership in the ECP should introspect and resign on their own, and lead the call for investigations to get their own names and that of their institution cleared.