Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has decided to take action against multiple voters who have been identified by NADRA while conducting verification of votes in certain constituencies. The decision comes when the ECP is facing severe criticism, especially from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which has already launched a movement against rigging in the May 2013 general elections. It is fair to question whether it is a sense of duty or hard pressure from political parties motivating the ECP to claim it will do what it is required to do anyway. Either way, people who violated rules designed to ensure free and fair elections must be held accountable.
There are problems with this kind of penalisation however. Sure, one can run after the individual who cast eleven votes in Karachi and punish him under the law. But those are people at the very bottom of the food chain. There are two types of actors: Those who willingly participated in multiple voting. And those unable to exercise free will due to intimidation. Does the corrective procedure enable us to draw a distinction between the two? Should the law put offenders in separate categories or simply follow a standard, all-embracing policy? It is difficult to imagine that large-scale rigging took place without serious involvement from senior office-bearers and candidates themselves. So what procedures will the ECP follow to establish a link between the individual who cast multiple votes and the people who made him do it? Any investigation that leaves the big players out of the equation will have limited results, if any. Just because they didn’t get their hands dirty on the day, doesn’t mean they’re clean. The judicial process must allow for that.
Then there are serious procedural issues that can be exploited. The quality of ink and ink-pads used during the elections was low, due to which NADRA has been unable to verify a considerable chunk of votes in various constituencies. Out of thousands of unverifiable votes, how do we know which ones are fake and which ones are just not legible? If a large number of constituencies present the same problem, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear the opposition parties claim all votes are bogus and the government insisting that they are just illegible. The ECP must prove that it is serious about addressing rigging and cover all these loopholes. But to ensure that effectively, the institution itself needs reform. And at least one excellent platform is available for introducing meaningful changes to the ECP; its called the Parliament.