We decided to press on for Election Reforms. For that to have a meaningful start, we asked the Government to open up merely four NA constituencies, as we believed they would cover the irregularities, the managed rigging per se, that we strongly believe permeated generally all across the general elections. It is pertinent to assert that at the same time, we were so confident of the transparency and validity of our own successes in the seats we had won, that we offered the Government and others that we’ll open up for thumb verification and recounting absolutely any constituency that got challenged – the ones under our control through KP Government. Interestingly, no such challenge came forth, as PTI was even geared for a re-election in the province that we controlled – so absolute are we of our genuine mandate. As a matter of fact, we know we will return to KP Assembly in even greater numbers if there is a reelection.
Our request for thumb verification on merely four constituencies fell on deaf ears as the Noon League parliamentarians in question resorted blatantly to securing Stay Orders from High Court in order to stall the process. The Election Commission (EC), by law, is required to conduct and announce result of such petitions within four months, yet it has been over two years that we have been running from pillar to post without any joy on our petitions for the four constituencies.
We continued our protest, ratcheting it up, through a brilliant 126-day Dharna that had to be eventually called off as the country went into mourning over the APS tragedy, and all parties united on the front to fight terror. We went into arduous sessions with Noon League over formation of Judicial Commission (JC) to investigate what went on in Elections 2013. The JC got formed and has announced its findings and verdict. I confidently assert that it’s an integral part of the struggle for Naya Pakistan – there is no reason for dejection at the results. Time will prove the JC findings will play their part in formation of the Pakistan we all crave for. It has underlined the sanctity of the ballot – of the right of the common Pakistani to have their voice heard – in all fairness, the only recourse in the hands of the vast majority of the beleaguered people to have their say on how the country needs to be governed. It is through voting that the people can assert their right whether their money should be spent on cosmetic Metro projects or on the much needed education and healthcare sectors. At the same time, Status Quo forces are creating smokescreens, trying to befuddle the understanding of the people, by downplaying the findings of the JC regarding the plethora of irregularities and the gross acts of omission on the part of Election Commission (EC). This is unprecedented – Pakistan is indeed changing.
Noon League, however, has churned out propaganda and spin in the wake of the verdict, as rather interestingly, Nawaz Sharif termed this as wastage of two years for the nation. Well, yes it was for those who want to perpetuate the decadent governance of Status Quo, but the last two years have given invaluable insight and political awareness to the people regarding their right to vote, the sanctity of the ballot, and the overall charade that got unleashed on the people in the last elections.
The backdrop to the JC is relevant here. All twenty-one political parties were unanimous the elections has been rigged – even Noon League representative asserted so, for example in Karachi. After the Elections, we had filed 213 petitions but asked only four constituencies to be opened. For more than a year, PTI campaigned tirelessly for thumb verification of the constituencies, as we were determined to ensure electoral reforms were implemented after a fact-finding mission, of what truly happened in the fateful 2013 Elections. We approached even the Supreme Court but were met with stony resistance and indifference from the the-then CJ Chaudhary Iftikhar. He told us he had a backlog of twenty thousand cases to consider, so he could not take up the pressing national case – this despite him being renowned for taking Suo Moto notices on matters of far less magnitude and importance.
Coming back to the JC (Judicial Commission), I have been mighty impressed by the way the proceedings were conducted. Chief Justice adopted a highly conscientious approach, diligence and must applaud on the skills he exercised in the process. Such a Commission – its formation and the speed with which it has delivered its verdict is a milestone in the history of our nation – a far cry from the likes of Justice Hamoodur Rehman Commission that got conducted behind closed doors and whose results took three decades to get announced publicly.
It is Nawaz Sharif rather who should apologise to the nation, for the JC has clearly stated in its findings that PTI’s demand for the formation of the Commission was justified. The JC process has also validated PTI’s stance that those who accused our strident countrywide protests as being triggered and promoted by section of Armed Forces must be ashamed, as such massive electoral irregularities have indeed been surfaced.
Everybody must read the findings of the JC, as it corroborates what we have been clamoring about. According to its findings, Election Commission (EC) had no control over the election process. There was no monitoring whatsoever of the provincial election commissions, the ROs (Returning Officers), the polling agents etc. despite the EC being given the duty to supervise the process. No training had been given to the polling agents either. Lack of coordination and feedback loop during the elections is a blatant act of EC that blows away any notions of credible control and execution of the election process anybody may be harboring. PTI has requested thus the EC members to tender their resignations as it has been determined unquestionably in the JC findings that they failed in their duty to the electorate.
According to the JC findings, more than ten million extra ballots were printed – an unprecedented exercise. The EC had no control over the same, as against the law, the ROs were empowered to decide on their whims, how many extra ballot papers were needed for their constituencies. What resulted was a complete farce, with huge inconsistencies, as ROs in Punjab enjoyed a free hand without being legally in power for that. For example, in Khan Sahb’s constituency, merely three extra ballots were printed, whereas in the adjoining NA-125 constituency of Khwaja Saad Rafique, an astonishing number of over 125,000 extra ballots got printed. The JC reports there was a breakdown on Election Day, in the Results Management System (RMS) funded by the UNDP at a cost of Rs. 40 crore. RMS had been designed to mitigate the chances of willful or negligent misreporting from ROs, with the process requiring Form 15s to be scanned and sent to the EC Data Centre. Mysteriously, the system stopped working on Election Day, and we believe this was a deliberate act to facilitate rigging through suppressing a vital control to prevent wrongdoing. Per JC Report, the Provincial Members Commission formed across the board, to work under the EC, simply did nothing to monitor the elections. In our understanding, it became rather a tool for what we term “post-poll rigging” through adjudicating and dismissing vast majority of election result petitions filed after the Election. Out of 413 petitions, filed, approximately merely 40 were approved for ballot checks, and the rest were dismissed summarily on “technical grounds”.
PTI had asserted before the JC started its work that I will abide by its verdict, and we are. However, one must express the disappointment and pain felt about the verdict. As the proceedings got conducted, our hopes got raised as we were witnessing in the open hearings a robust exposition and scrutiny of the elections. Of the three points in the Terms of Reference, the first one required the JC to give its verdict on whether or not the elections had been conducted in a fair manner. The decision rather than categorically stating in “Yes or No” terms as required, took the shape of “largely fair” – thereby creating all sorts of confusion. It was the JC’s own finding that the critical Form 15s had been found missing in 35% of the ballot bags – thus representing a lack of accountability of more than 2.5 crore votes. Form 15s had to be completed by the ROs, with a clear count of how many ballots had been used and how many were unused. With due respect, we are perplexed by this assertion of “largely fair” by JC, as how can elections be termed “largely fair” if the validity of 35% of the votes is under such a cloud? What is the threshold of deviations from the law for an election to be termed unfair then?
Moreover, although the JC had been empowered through Memorandum of Understanding we signed with Noon Government that it would have special investigative powers, these powers have not been exercised. The JC’s work, with due respect, is thus not complete as after unraveling the staggering deviations from legal bindings in the election process, the work to determine the precise reasons for the same has not been conducted. Who will now decide whether these extreme deviations and acts of omissions were simply lapses, or rather were part of managed rigging?
Overall, the JC formation and its work have been a landmark and a revolutionary phenomenon, and time will tell how it will strongly obviate rigging in the future. The wheels have been set in motion – the nation has been made aware of the process and their rights. This struggle will not stop here, as we intend to pursue the issue of electoral reforms to its rightful end. PTI will keep striving for securing the rights of the common man, and would leave no stone unturned in this quest. Too much is at stake, and if Pakistan is to survive and thrive, this fundamental right to vote, the sanctity of the ballot, and the provision of due rightful mandate must be ensured at all costs.