ISLAMABAD - The drive for preparing the much-delayed ‘latest’ electoral rolls seems to have been continuously marred with factual inaccuracies and misrepresentation of facts leading to the compilation of questionable statistics.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Friday held a high-level meeting to decide the display of Preliminary Electoral Rolls (PERs) from February 29 to March 20 across the country.

An official statement that followed the meeting contained a ‘strange’ claim regarding the introduction of Short Messaging Service (SMS) to carry election-related updates for the ‘first-ever time in the democratic history of the world’. The exact content of the statement said “The SMS facility, which ECP is introducing for the first time in the democratic histories of the world, is also going to be functional on 29th February 2012, during the display period.” But when checked, this newspaper found that among a few countries in the world, where the facility was actively followed to update the general public on electoral affairs, two states, Georgia and New Zealand, had introduced it for the voters before, during, and after the elections. The voters in these countries are time to time updated on necessary information regarding their enlistment in the respective constituencies and privy modalities on the elections schedule and mechanism to be followed for any given polls or by-polls, it is learnt. In an exclusive telephonic conversation with The Nation from Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Zurab Kharatishvili said the SMS facility in Georgia was introduced in 1998 seven years after the former Soviet Republic became a separate country.

“That time mobile phone was a growing phenomenon here in Georgia. I was not at the helm of affairs then but I can say with authority that the SMS facility for general public and voters was introduced back in 1998, on a limited scale though. It became fully operational across Georgia by 2000,” he added.

When told about the ECP’s claim, an audibly surprised chairman said, “This is too big to claim. This can’t be true. I believe a few countries follow this practice. The SMS facility might not be common but that doesn’t mean it does not exist.”

Kharatishvili said the matter needed to be taken up with the ECP. “We don’t have any official or formal correspondence with the Pakistani election commission but we would like to apprise them of the steps we have introduced in Georgia to ensure transparency in the electoral process.” The presidential elections in Georgia are scheduled this year. The country undergoes different steps for updating the Unified Voter Lists.

The Georgian official said related modalities for ensuring accuracy in the voter lists were finalised last month following a high-level meeting.

ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmed Khan, on whose behest the press release on SMS facility was released, was approached at his official landline number thrice on Friday to get his version on the issue. The secretary’s staff said he was busy in official meetings and would get back shortly that did not happen. Khan was not accessible at his personal cell number. Before the release of the said statement, an ECP official had called this scribe to claim that the ECP was ‘making the history’ by introducing what he termed as ‘latest SMS technique’. When asked what was ‘latest’ in the SMS facility, the official responded, “Everything! Once you get this facility, you will like it, I bet.”

An envoy at a European mission in Islamabad, requesting anonymity, said New Zealand had introduced the SMS facility in majority of its cities. “When I was posted there, I would receive frequent updates on elections despite that I’m not a New Zealand national or citizen. This is something I rarely experienced but envied,” the diplomat said.

In the light of Supreme Court’s instructions, the ECP was under obligation to prepare the Electoral Rolls 2011 by February 23 - the deadline the ECP itself had set up last year but failed to meet. The electoral body now claims to create ‘history’ on May 25.