This article was published in Dawn on September 05, 2015 and is available at the following link
THE decisions of the two election tribunals hearing poll petitions on the NA-122, Lahore-V and NA-154, Lodhran-I constituencies were announced in quick succession last month. They have raised much political dust. Regrettably, no sober stock-taking has been attempted of the flaws and irregularities in the electoral system that have been painstakingly investigated by the tribunals in the two orders.
Earlier, the 2013 general election inquiry commission report had met with the same casual reaction by almost all stakeholders. Much of the overwhelming body of commentary on the three valuable outputs, the two orders of the election tribunals in particular, can be categorised as political point-scoring.
The comments by the PML-N and PTI leaders on the election tribunal NA-122 order were in poor taste, especially the public accusation levelled by a federal minister against a judge of the Lahore election tribunal Kazim Ali Malik. This was unworthy of the honourable minister.
Another minister went to the extent of accusing him of settling personal scores because his close relation was allegedly denied a ticket by the PML-N in the general election. All these charges were denied by the honourable judge who took the unprecedented step of going to the electronic media to respond to the charges.
The NA-122 and NA-154 poll tribunal orders showed much that needs to be corrected.
Such reactions by themselves indicate the level of immaturity that so many of our leaders show during times of tension. The scope of the inquiry commission was broad as it dealt with the entire 2013 election. The tribunals, on the other hand, dealt in depth with constituency-specific matters. Despite the fact that these are constituency-specific orders, a number of findings unmistakably point to the casual approach employed by almost all parties when it comes to the conduct of elections. The only silver lining that this writer sees is the hard work and high level of detailed analysis undertaken by the inquiry commission and the election tribunals in putting together the report and the orders.
It is not being suggested that the remaining 12 tribunals have done any less or that their orders do not deserve equal praise. But it is through the examination of these two orders that we wish to highlight the need for serious examination of electoral issues.
An in-depth reading of the inquiry commission report and the two orders leave one with the unmistakable impression that the conduct of the election, that merited a careful, serious approach, has in general been taken lightly.
Exceptions are there, of course, but the three documents are a sad reflection on the casual approach that dominated the entire process and system of election handled by the Election Commission of Pakistan, the caretaker governments, the district returning officers, the returning officers, the polling staff, election contestants and their respective political parties. The inquiry commission sums it up when it states in its report that it was the ECP’s responsibility to prepare for the 2013 elections and that it had ample time to do so. But the evidence before the commission has suggested poor planning on the part of the ECP.
The election tribunal in Lahore in its order on the NA-122 polls has described a number of flaws. The conduct of Nadra has been specifically criticised. The database authority has been accused of misguiding the tribunal by offering ‘novel theories’ and attempting to explain the mistakes of the polling staff. Apparently, 6,123 counterfoils carried numbers of imaginary CNICs which were never issued by Nadra, that tried to cover up its fault, stating that human errors in recording the numbers could be the reason for these irregularities — an explanation to which the tribunal took serious exception.
It is inexplicable how the polling staff could wrongly record CNIC numbers on such a large number of counterfoils — 1,380 ballot papers seemed to have no origin as nobody knew where they came from.
Then 1,270 ballot papers which were issued by the polling staff could not be recovered from the ballot boxes; the tribunal was rightly perturbed about such a large number of ballots going missing. Reportedly, 1,715 counterfoils carried no thumb impression of voters which was an important condition of a valid vote. But the polling staff counted such votes as valid. Also, 255 voters were able to cast their ballot multiple times and got away with it. All such duplicate votes were counted as valid.
Additionally, 570 voters were not from the constituency but were still allowed to vote. A total of 315 ballot papers and their counterfoils had absolutely no serial number. A full 23,957 counterfoils had no stamp and signature of the presiding officers. All these irregularities are of such proportion that they simply cannot be glossed over.
In the order of the election tribunal, Multan, on the NA-154 election, only one instance needs to be cited and it should suffice to portray the poor system of electoral scrutiny. The returned candidate from the constituency claimed to be a graduate but was unable to read even the reply that he had filed before the tribunal. He was not able to understand or speak a word of English though his detailed marks certificate indicated 95 marks in English out of 200. His Matric and FA certificates were found to be fake. He claimed that he had studied in the Sindhi medium system but he was unable to read even a single word of Sindhi. That such an open and shut case of forgery and deception should take 27 months to decide is a sad commentary on our electoral system.
It is about time the ECP and other stakeholders seriously took stock of the electoral process and its flaws. Political parties may continue with their point-scoring but should seriously worry about the integrity of the system, and correct its faults, before we are faced with the next general election.