Just as nomination papers are being subject to scrutiny, and the country is preparing for another round of democratic transfer of power, a controversy has arisen in National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA)’s ranks that, if true, could seriously comprise the integrity of the election process.

The controversy rose after an article published in the media in May, which leaked details of electoral lists, supposedly without the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s permission. The ECP has written a letter to NADRA seeking an explanation as to why a newspaper published details of electoral lists in May, and to clarify if the Database Authority has violated the data confidentially agreement, and has shared or allowed to have leaked sensitive information regarding the elections to unrelated persons.

The fire has been further ignited by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) chairman, Imran Khan, who has filed in the ECP a petition for the removal of the NADRA chairman over the alleged leak and “having contacts with a political party”. According to the PTI narrative, the alleged leaks by NADRA were an attempt to give an unfair advantage to its rival party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), by illegally sharing voters’ details. This damning allegation has been further exacerbated with claims that the NADRA Chairman met with PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz.

Such incriminatory accusations should not be taken lightly. The matter is a serious one and needs to be investigated, especially the claims of a data breach. If there is reasonable suspicion that NADRA comprised its security or colluded with a political party, it would be a fatal blow to the integrity and credibility of the democratic process. The implications of the breach of voters’ privacy and trust would also be serious casualties if those allegations were true. Just to clear any clouds of doubt, the ECP and NADRA need to investigate this matter in a transparent way so that the election process can continue peacefully.

It is, however, troublesome for political parties to heave such serious allegations of collusion without credible evidence. It is important to note that NADRA has vehemently denied any accusations of wrong-doing, leaving room for giving the Registration body the benefit of the doubt. It has termed the leakage allegations baseless, pointing to the fact that there has never been a data security breach in the authority’s history, and claims that the information “leaked” had been more than a year old. Thus, although the allegations are incriminating, there are holes in PTI’s story.