Slaughter of an election

Every electoral process consists of hundreds of steps and each step demands minimum standards

For instance, Pakistan’s Elections Act 2017 has 15 chapters, 241 sections and about 2,000 sub-clauses

Each word of the act holds some rationale

If they are applied in letter and spirit, the election will be transparent, free, and fair

Unfortunately, state institutions have failed us each time elections are held in the country

The only difference between the various elections is the degree of rigging

A man is either sick or healthy

Similarly, an election is either free and fair or not

It can’t be both

The next step is to investigate the nature and severity of the illness

This analogy can help us understand the diseases of our electoral system

Let’s start with delimitation

Besides small-scale but widespread rigging, gerrymandering has always been used as a strategic tool to achieve ‘positive’ results

In Karachi’s local elections, there was a huge variation in the allocation of voters to union committees (UC) across districts

For instance, in Malir, Keamari, and West on average one ward consisted of 6,577 voters, while in Korangi, South, and Central districts the average voters per UC were 11,000

This discrimination reduced the number of UC chairmen in the latter set of three districts

In the former three districts, there were 95 chairmen against 2,501,500 voters and in the latter three districts 125 chairmen for 5,046,219 voters

If we use the ratio of the former, the latter towns should have 190 UC chairmen

It means two voters of the former set of districts were made equal to one voter of the latter three districts

The principle of equality of vote was violated

According to ECP’s latest results, overall PPP won 91 seats and JI won 85 in Karachi

In Central Karachi where the size of UC was the largest — having as many as 45,595 voters per UC, JI won 37 (88%) of 42 seats

Suppose the size of UC in the Central District was equal to Keamari, which was 24,966 per UC, the district would have 83 UCs

Therefore, the share of JI and PPP would have 70 and 8 respectively

We can also calculate differently

If size of the UCs in Malir would have been equal to the central district, instead of 30 UCs, it would only have 17 UCs

Please remember that PPP has won 20 (67%) of the 30 seats

Hence, PPP would have won only 11 seats

Should the size of every UC of all towns equal Keamari, JI would have won 140 UCs, PPP 119, and PTI 61

This is one of the best examples of gerrymandering in the country

But drivers of rigging do not just rely on skewed delimitation

They have many other tools to ensure the victory of their favourite candidates

Measuring the health of polling, counting and result management is important because, under our electoral system, candidates can win or lose even by one vote

Therefore, assessing compliance with every sub-section of the Elections Act is a must

For instance, under section 84 (3-d) Presiding Officer (PO) must sign and stamp the backside of each ballot paper that he issues to a voter and every ballot paper that lacks it, will not be counted

With this omission, the potentiality of the winning candidate can be translated into defeat

The question is how can the PO or APO know who is going to vote for whom? Interestingly the clue has often been provided by contesting candidates/parties

Before going to polling stations, most voters get parchi from the polling camps of their favourite candidate/party

Parchi is a piece of paper, which has the voter’s electoral details including the number of polling booth

It also contains the electoral symbol of the party/candidate

So, when a voter hands over this parchi to the APO to issue a ballot paper, he reveals his party affiliation as well

Now let’s assume 10 APOs in local elections have been bribed or coerced by a party to not sign and stamp 10 ballot papers, this will exclude 100 from the count

Resultantly, a candidate’s chance of winning has been eliminated through fraud

Consider its larger impact

Roughly each UC on average had 25 polling stations and 9,000 registered voters

In Karachi turnout was less than 20%

On average, the margin of victory appears to be less than 200 votes at 70% of polling stations in Karachi

In Sindh’s local elections, the above-mentioned corrupt practice was likely to have taken place at about 20% of polling stations

Many polling agents including a pro-ECP observation group reported witnessing the practice

This is why major political parties questioned the credibility of elections

But, to appease parties and the ECP, the observation group (wrongly) concluded that the polling process was ‘peaceful, orderly, and well-managed’

According to the same observer group, the polling staff of 26% and 41% of polling stations did not provide copies of Form XI (Statement of the Count) and Form XII respectively to polling agents

As many as 36% of observers were denied copies of Form XI and 57% could not obtain Form XII

Also, under the law polling staff must paste copies of these forms on the wall of polling stations

This section of the act was violated in more than 50% of places

The group reported that at 15% of polling stations either voters were not allowed to vote or allowed by showing copies of CNIC

The group also noted serious ‘omissions and inadequacies’ in Form XI

For instance, POs ‘did not duly fill out the forms’ and didn’t record many important details including polling stations numbers, names, and gender-disaggregated polled votes, and didn’t bother to sign and stamp the forms either

No wonder the ECP failed to announce the results of six UCs and took 10 long days to announce the results

The cumulative impact of the above-mentioned corrupt practices has never been calculated systematically as they are committed discreetly

The media and election observers cannot calculate it due to a lack of skills and paucity of time

Unless a forensic audit of each ballot paper, each form and each bag is undertaken, it is impossible to measure the level of fraudulent practices

However, the little evidence that we have is sufficient to argue that local elections would have had different results

An unprecedented number of seats in local councils were filled without any contest

In the 1st phase, it was 16%, which jumped to 21% in the 2nd phase

In the Hyderabad division, it was as high as 34%

Interestingly, a majority of the uncontested winners belong to the ruling party of Sindh

The slaughter was theatrical

  Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2023

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Date:05-Feb-2023 Reference:View Original Link