All these challenges are identified with a hope that solutions can be found and these mistakes should be rectified in the forth coming Bye Elections. All women voters should be given equal right to cast their vote in every constituency
In the very first elections under a democratically selected caretaker government, the people of Pakistan had mountain high expectations from ECP. Election has three phases; pre election day (E-Day), E-Day, and Post E-Day. In all three phases, implementation of state laws by the ECP had been far from satisfactory. Despite timely reminders by the experts and political parties, ECP leadership was unable to correct its course of action. ECP representatives were very vocal in TV talk shows to issues sermons but no practical steps were taken to discourage the corrupt and illegal practices under The Representation of People Act 1976 during the Elections 2013. Following the tradition, there are no measures taken by the Election Commissioner to revamp the ECP machinery for better administration of Bye Elections.
Electoral Campaign was fraught with violations of code of conduct. Candidates, as close to ECP as Islamabad, were found displaying big banners; displaying mammoth TV screens on the big vans; loud speakers were used enchanting songs of the political parties; and streets were blocked in the name of electoral gatherings. Farther from the center of the administration, violations become more visible. Even if we believe that ECP has deployed 500 monitoring teams, rented cars for them and cameras were purchased with public money or donors money given to people of Pakistan, we still need to see any substantial evidence collection or any action taken by them till today. If any action had been taken, it is not made public.
Administratively, the Performa issued by the ECP for the returning officers and the monitoring teams had specifically mentioned that violation of the code of conduct. There were no procedural guidelines and no mention of any penal section of law for the returning officer to take necessary action against the candidates or their supporters. It is hard to believe such glaring omissions by the most knowledgeable custodians of law in the country. Similarly, it is difficult to get any data released by the ECP about violators of code of conduct and any impact on candidature of any person during the pre election campaign.
Another issue in pre E-day arrangement was logistic issue of safe transportation of ballot papers and election related material. Reportedly, 90,000 of ballot papers were seized in Swat. There must be explanation about this by the ECP and how such incidents will be prevented in Bye Elections.
E-Day gets most attention of the observers and the media at local, national and international level. It is the main show of all work done by ECP since last elections but it is also test of its performance. Resources were not an issue in 2013 Elections. We know that donors made available huge funds for capacity building of the ECP and wish lists of ECP were honored like anything prior to elections. In an effort to use technology, Result Management System (RMS) was designed with the help of foreign experts and local input. However, the system could not perform what is promised. It is a separate story that who was to blame but ECP and iNGO involved in the process could not deliver the results because timelines for providing quality training to the ECP personnel, particularly in Balochistan and Punjab were unmet.
ECP graciously confessed the inability to monitor the electoral process in most volatile city of Pakistan, Karachi on 11th May. Even re-polling in 43 polling stations in NA 250 will not rectify the social and economic losses incurred by the citizens starting from E-Day and continuing till today. Many political parties were clamoring about deployment of army and threat assessment should have been realistic to ward off all possible dangers. Had the proper steps taken, the present situation in Karachi and losses; social, economic and political, could have been averted. One can come up with argument that it was a political decision not to deploy army. Reply can be found in the Article 220 constitution of Pakistan that gives ECP all the powers to ask any provincial and federal authority to assist ECP for the administration of free and just elections in Pakistan. If ECP can select the caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan and enjoy the limelight then it is rightly expected that it will also assume the responsibilities of ensuring the peaceful electoral process on E-Day.
ECP claimed that there will be level playing field and any agreement among the parties to prevent the women voters will result in disqualification of the candidates. Ample evidence is available in KP where women were not allowed to vote and media has brought such agreements before the public. No action is taken so far against any candidate or office bearer of political party against this stark violation of code of conduct and constitution of Pakistan. If this trends continues, we will see that bye elections will be repeat the same trend and ECP will be not only a spectator but an accomplice in this crime.
Post E-Day environment is marred with allegations of corrupt practices during the elections. Boycotts started even on E-Day in Karachi by Jamat I Islami and PTI struck the last nail in the coffin of free and fair elections. Sit in are continued by PTI, MQM and JI in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. The events, we are witnessing, are new phenomenon for the present generation of Pakistanis who had not seen the reaction against Bhutto government in 1977 elections.
Interestingly, the participants in these sit in are not traditional paid people but educated men and women of Pakistan who are showing their commitment to democracy. It is another proof that citizens’ voice is heard in more than one ways and peaceful means can be adopted for agitation against any process. However, it has created fissures among the masses at the individual and at the party level as is visible in NA 250, Karachi or NA 125, Lahore.
All these challenges are identified with a hope that solutions can be found and these mistakes should be rectified in the forth coming Bye Elections. All women voters should be given equal right to cast their vote in every constituency. ECP should take necessary steps to ensure that ballot papers are not available in excess and safe disposal to the polling stations is guaranteed under the strictest security. If possible, electronic voting system should be adopted for fair polling. Paper used for the thumb impressions should be pertinent for verification of the thumb impressions and impersonators should be punished regardless of time taken to identify them. Data about violators of code of conduct and any impact on their candidature should be published. Threat assessment of elections should be fair and followed by suitable measures by the concerned authorities. The protests against alleged rigging should be taken as a call to improve the monitoring processes and ensure a greater role of the observers.
The writer is a freelancer