July 25th marked another historic day for Pakistan, when on time 3rd consecutive elections were held. According to a notification issued by Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), PTI has emerged as a major political force in the National Assembly (NA). It achieved 115 seats, out of which, perhaps, 6 would be temporarily vacated (as one member can hold only one seat) for by-elections, therefore, PTI at this moment has 109 seats in the NA. Similarly, PML (N) and PPPP have gained 64 and 43 NA seats respectively. Combining PML (N) and PPPP the toll reaches 107. Two options for government making can be discussed:
PTI, independents and others, or PML(N), PPPP, independents and others.
However, the majority party must be given full freedom to form its government. It is very interesting that a party that struggled and led protests for anti-rigging electoral system in the country, i.e. PTI, has this time proclaimed the election free, fair and transparent. However, all other parties, that never accepted PTI demands previously, have objected the fairness and transparency of election. Now the question arises were these elections rigged?
This time the allegations are of different nature which include pre-poll, during- poll, and after poll-rigging. What we need is to examine these allegations seriously. Major political parties had blamed the caretakers for not providing level playing field during election campaign and for forced defections particularly in PML (N). Michael Gahler, chief observer of European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) reported that “Although there were several legal provisions aimed at ensuring a level playing field, we have concluded that there was a lack of equality and opportunity.” He further noted “a number of violent attacks targeting political parties, party leaders, candidates and election officials, severely affected the campaign environment.” Talking about pre-poll rigging methods he also elaborated, “Many of our interlocutors acknowledged a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates”, which was a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party and to orchestrate another political force.
On polling day rigging EUEOM chief objected the presence of military particularly inside polling stations, however, albeit some minor deficiencies were noticed he was to some extent satisfied with the electoral processes. He said that, “on election day, polling was assessed as well conducted and transparent, however, counting was somewhat problematic with staff not always following the procedures.”
Similarly, Free And Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a Pakistani independent election observer group, monitored elections very closely. Its views always carry much weight. FAFEN reported that “scale of procedural irregularities during the voting process was relatively low.”
Post-election major allegations raised by opposition parties were mostly related to form 45. This is a document issued by ECP, a statement of votes counted and to be completed by the polling agents. It is a decisive piece of paper, but was allegedly not issued by the polling staff as was required by the rules. The ECP secretary Babar Yaqoob blamed disruption in transmission system imported from Britain. He insisted, “There is no conspiracy, nor any pressure to delay results. The delay is because the results transmission has collapsed.” In a nutshell, the newly imported transmission system was tested first time in the general election-2018 and it badly collapsed. Here question is why a system not tested before employing in the general elections? It shows the negligence on part of ECP. Therefore, this issue marred, albeit to some extent, the transparency of general elections. On this basis major opponent political parties have rejected election results and announced to start a movement against unfair and rigged elections. It is yet to be seen either they have any evidence for that or just levelling allegations. However, this presents a new challenge for political stability in the country.
It shows that the observers are agreed upon pre-poll rigging; wherein some particular political parties were intentionally targeted to reduce their presence to a certain margin. However, other political parties, particularly only PTI, was given the freehand and level playing field. On the other hand although minor deficiencies were witnessed by the observers on election day, overall it has been transparent to some extent.
FAFEN says that in the history of Pakistan elections have never been completely free, fair and transparent. It is always the case that the stronger candidate controls the election booth to get himself elected with the help of election officers; for that counting also matters. Many votes of the opponents are rejected by the presiding officer. Henceforth, the election this time was not different from the previous. Those who had control over the system manipulated results; either they belonged to PML (N), PTI, PPPP, MMA or any other party. In other words, many of those who knew the science of election have emerged as victorious. Those who did not, have lost.
A welcome move was the address by, likely to be, the next PM, Imran Khan. In his victory speech he discussed foreign policy, domestic issues of health, education, economy etc. Above all, he extended his invitation to open any constituency if demanded so by any political party for investigation purposes. It is applaud able and needs to be implemented in its true essence. The opponent political parties’ objections and call for movement does not remain valid if the new government opens the constituencies for investigation purposes in true sense. And if this does not happen they have the right to protest for their political rights.
However, given the political instability and domestic situation of the country, its foreign relations, particularly strained relations with its neighbours and United States, and regional realignment, the new government would face severe challenges ahead.
Furthermore, for a prosperous and peaceful post-election Pakistan, all the stakeholders should let the government work by keeping pressure on it inside the parliament despite protesting on streets and worsening the domestic situation of the country. We have seen that political unrest and instability have caused economic degradation in particular and deteriorated relations with neighbouring countries in common. As when you are internally weak your enemy tries his best to hit you by whatever means are available to him. So, let the Imran and his allies work in a better conducive environment that though he himself did not provide to the former government and so is responsible, to some extent, for the situation he will be facing as PM. Let him do the needful. If he performs in the best national interest he will be kept and in case otherwise will be thrown out of window. Hopes are high and challenges are severe let’s see how they deliver.
The writer is serving in Punjab Police. He holds masters in International Relations from Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad. Currently, he writes in different journals and newspapers on Foreign policy and Security issues.