Electoral violence is not a new phenomenon in the region and Pakistan is no exception to this. Ironically, if you want to read some trends and patterns of electoral violence in Pakistan you may be surprised to find that there is no data available either in the National Crisis Management Cell, in the Ministry of Interior or in the Election Commission of Pakistan to analyse this phenomenon. Just like all such endeavour to get readymade answers to complex questions, you will have to fall back upon the basic data provider: i.e the police station.
There are many incidents as prominent as the shooting of Benazir Bhutto to the death of MQM’s Manzar Imam in Hyderabad recently or the attack on Gulam Ahamad Billour. During this week, attacks on leaders and workers of the ANP in KP were also reported. Despite the fact that the TTP has accepted responsibility for the attack, the FIR will be registered against unknown culprits and the incident will be just one of many incidents of crime without making a reference to the electoral campaign.
There is a shortage of such data despite the fact that post Police Order 2002, there was a portfolio of Research and Development in all the provincial headquarters. Even prominent think tanks are unsuccessful in accessing such information and their analyses are based on media reports. If someone tries to access the official record of the police, they are likely to spend days buried in the piles of FIR registers and cases buried in other criminal records. They may infer that these cases are related to elections but during the electoral process - which is hopefully once in many years - there is a special law in the statutes named The Representation of Peoples Act 1976.
I don’t think we can expect everything from any person or a particular department to clarify the situation because Elections 2013 are unique in many ways. It is for the first time that a caretaker government is taking the responsibility to hold elections through a constitutional process. It is also the first time that the Election Commission is trying to play its role positively to enforce the law. This effort is commendable and mistakes like some hilarious applications of Article 62 and 63 may also prove a positive development because the Returning Officers and the higher judiciary is also learning and changing through this process and through public opinion expressed over the vibrant media.
It is also for the first time that electoral security has sprung up as a key issue and initial steps have been taken to train the Police and Levies, although on a very small scale, about electoral duties and their role on polling day and during the campaigning. In the fog of all this newness, it is not unusual for there to be less attention towards issues considered trivial in the eyes of policy makers who are adept at making decisions on perceptions rather than evidence.
However, there is still one big step missing and that is how to handle electoral disputes and the registration of incidents of electoral violence in the provinces, particularly in FATA. We have mentioned in these columns that monitoring committees should be activated earlier than polling day because the safety of political workers and the candidates is as important as the safety of the voters, polling stations and the ECP staff.
So far the media is focused on electoral terrorism but the attack on a political candidate in Muzaffararh and in Quetta point to the launching of non-terrorist electoral violence. Other disputes may arise on the issues of rallies and the display of banners and posters. These incidents are not a new phenomenon in the political culture of Pakistan, but new steps must be taken to prevent further loss of life during the elections.
It is suggested that election-monitoring teams be activated without delay with clear roles and responsibilities to report the violation of CoC to District Returning Officers. Where possible, relevant electoral crimes should be recorded and prosecuted under the ROPA so that quantum of electoral violence can be ascertained and a separate database can be maintained and utilised by R&D wings of the police and for scholars.
On the basis of this data, adequate resources can be allocated in coming days. In the absence of scientific estimation of the threat, it will not be possible to build the confidence in people that adequate steps are being taken by the ECP to ensure peaceful elections. The ECP staff and tribunals should be given a legal framework to resolve electoral disputes within a short time and violators should be punished with the threat of disqualification for some.
The writer is a Governance and Security Expert based in Islamabad