Rawalpindi: Reports trickling in from polling stations in Pakistan have painted a disturbing picture about how the general elections were conducted this week, even as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief and former cricket captain Imran Khan declared his party the "winner". "We were successful and we were given a mandate," Khan said in a televised address on Thursday.
But in an election marred by predictions of rigging, a controversial, violent and dirty campaign, and allegations of military interference, these claims got louder as results kept trickling in.
PTI's main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, strongly objected to the results, said the polls had been "stolen", and warned that the "tainted and dubious" results would cast a "bad impact" on the country's politics.
The elusive Form 45
By 2.00 am on Thursday, when the results were likely to be announced, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said it didn't have more than 50 percent of votes for any constituency, while overall results were also for only 33 percent of seats.
With only a third of the votes counted by 3 am, Imran Khan's PTI — believed to be backed by the Pakistan Army — led in 110 seats, and the PML-N in 68. A total of 137 seats are required for a majority.
And that's when results stopped coming in.
PML-N's Murriyam Aurangzeb held a press conference at night, accusing army of full-scale interference. "Polling agents were expelled without being provided Form 45," she told the media. "The Form 45 should be provided if rigging is not being carried out behind closed doors."
Other Opposition parties followed suit and alleged systematic manipulation. Form 45 is a document issued by the ECP, a statement of votes counted and to be completed by the polling agents. It's a crucial piece of paper, but was allegedly not issued by the polling staff as was stipulated by the rules.
The ECP, an independent body, blamed the disruption on a technical glitch in the transmission system imported from Britain. ECP secretary Babar Yaqoob insisted that "there is no conspiracy, nor any pressure to delay results". "The delay is because the results transmission has collapsed," Yaquoob said.
The ECP didn't respond to requests for comment. The Opposition parties, however, weren't satisfied with the ECP's response. At a late night press conference, Nawaz Sharif's brother and PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif said, "We wholly reject the results."
He also commented on the reported eviction of polling staff from dozens of stations by security personnel before the final tally was reached. "The mandate of millions of people who came out to vote has been humiliated. Our democratic process has been pushed back by decades," Shehbaz said.
Social media afire
Footage from polling stations seemed to support these charges leveled by rival parties, and was quickly pushed out on social media. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) media consultant Omar Quaraishi tweeted, "When a senior polling official was asked for a copy of Form 45, he rather sheepishly replied 'Copies abhi kum hain (not enough copies at the moment). The look on the official's face gives it all away — that he is in no position to give a final vote count sheet till the engineered vote count is finalled."
Independent candidate Jibran Nasir seconded this thought, saying, "Counting hasn't even started at GBSS Zamzama, and our polling agents were sent back without the official Form 45 from at least six polling stations and our polling agents were forced out from one station in Gizri."
Mohsin Dawar, the provincial candidate for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and founding member of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, said on Twitter that the "army and the Military Intelligence personnel are snatching the identity cards of our supports in different areas to stop them from polling".
PML-N and PPP also alleged that election monitors were kicked out and were given handwritten result tallies — photos of which circulated on social media — that they could not verify instead of official documentation.
At the time of writing, Yaqoob reiterated that "we do accept any serious rigging or bogus-voting (charges). I have seen the video being shared, it is from a previous election. We have done a forensic evaluation and the ballot paper shown in the video was dark green, while the current counterfiles are light green. Also, the stamp used was transparent, therefore, this is disinformation".
Ball in Khan's court?
The 2018 elections in Pakistan have been marred by accusations of media censorship, intimidation of candidates, fears of a "creeping coup", alleged interference of intelligence agencies and deadly attacks. If Khan has claimed victory and declared himself in charge, even calling the election "historic", it is imperative that he ensures that the legitimacy of the electoral process is maintained, especially with the PML-N declaring it will explore legal and political options.
In a televised address, the cricketer promised to investigate charges of interference in the polls, also saying "we will run Pakistan in a way in which it has never been run before, deliver the kind of governance never delivered before".
The coming days will indicate if he sticks to his words.
The author is a Rawalpindi-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-Asia network of grassroots reporters
Updated Date: Jul 27, 2018 13:49 PM