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Rigging and formation of government

Pakistan Muslim league (N) has emerged as the single largest party with 123 seats requiring 13 seats to form an overall majority in the national assembly. Markets have reacted favourably and reports indicate that Nawaz Sharif has given instructions to his core team members, including Ishaq Dar, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Sartaj Aziz, Khwaja Asif and Ahsan Iqbal to begin work on all the challenges facing the specific portfolio that they are likely to be selected to lead.

Meanwhile the other two major political parties continue to reel under what are clearly unexpected election results given pre-election surveys and analysis. The PPP leadership massively erred on the side of optimism, with those close to the party leadership maintaining that they had expected to win around 70 seats or so in the national assembly whereas the achieved figure is 30; as did Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf which did not see the numbers in their jalsas translating into seats. While analysts did forecast a PPP rout in the elections yet they advised caution to PTI supporters by pointing out that jalsa attendance may not translate into seats. Be that as it may, the consensus was that in the event that there is a higher turnout it would be PTI that would benefit and not the PML (N). That too was proved wrong by the election results.

Overoptimism is a flaw not unique to Pakistani parties that lose which only partly accounts for charges of rigging post elections. At present Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) is protesting against what it claims is ‘rigging in several seats in Karachi as well as in Lahore’. The fact that the party snatched victory in the face of defeat in Taxila PP-7 after recounting has vindicated the party’s stance. From his hospital bed Khan has said that his party would issue a white paper which would provide evidence of rigging in several constituencies. The MQM has expressed anger at being accused of rigging in Karachi and some Hyderabad seats by the PTI, the Sunni Tehreek, the Mohajir Qaumi Movement, and indirectly by the PPP which claimed rigging in Karachi but did not name any particular party as being responsible because, it can be argued, the party is considering forming a coalition government in Sindh and MQM’s national assembly seats would strengthen the rather relatively small PPP presence in the national assembly.

The JUI (F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman has taken his concerns to a ridiculous extent by refusing to accept PTI’s mandate in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Faisal Saleh Hayat who had endeared himself to the entire nation when he coined the epithet Raja Rental for our former elected Prime Minister has also complained of rigging as the reason for his failure to secure his seat. The PPP underage Chairman Bilawal Bhutto exhibited more maturity than the others when he stated that “my party honours the mandate of all political parties and expects respect for its mandate.” But then again PPP is also accused of considerable rigging in interior Sindh by the Muslim League Functional including in Larkana, the Bhutto stronghold, Nawabshah, the Zardari stronghold. The party has since formed a coalition with PML (N) that has also supported its claim of massive rigging in Sindh.

Balochistan is another quagmire and the numbers who voted in several constituencies are clearly not enough for the winning candidates to claim the honour of representing the constituency for example in PB 41 total number of votes cast was 544 while registered voters were 57,666. Akhtar Mengal has also talked of stealing the elections and to forestall further alienation of the Baloch nation the newly-elected federal government would have to deal with these complaints through dialogue.

How did rigging take place? MQM terms it incompetence of the ECP staff as they failed to appear on time with the ballot papers at several polling stations notably in NA-250. Other parties including PTI stalwarts maintain that failing to appear on time with the ballot papers was due to intimidation – a contention that they argue is proved correct given the Sindh caretaker government’s inexplicable letter to the ECP that it cannot provide security to those polling stations where re-polling took place yesterday. In addition the other rigging charges apart from intimidation by party workers on the ECP staff not to show up with the requisite ballot papers, include voter intimidation in KP, Fata, Karachi and Balochistan.

Free and Fair Election Network (FAAFEN) had noted that in several polling stations throughout the country (49 were identified) the percentage of voters was in excess of 100 percent. A day later when the returning officers rejected this claim Fafen regretted its earlier claim and clarified that its data was based on “citizen observers” trained to monitor voting and counting processes on polling day; and admitted that errors could be due to (i) human error by volunteer citizen observers in transcribing the numbers by hand from statements of count late at night on election day or (ii) due to changes in the numbers allocated to polling stations as listed in polling schemes without placing it on the ECP website. This changed the number of registered voters at each station while the obsolete data on the website was used as the basis for calculation by Fafen.

The European Union election observers’ head indicated that 90 percent of polling stations in 184 constituencies covered by its observers polling was “satisfactory and good” while irregularities were detected in 9 percent of polling stations which is not a bad figure as far as Pakistan’s past elections are concerned.

Be that as it may even if the PTI benefits in all the results that it contests, around 6 to 7 in Punjab, it would gain a maximum of 7 seats which would still give a major victory to the PML (N) with the reduced 116 national assembly seats. In short the federal government would still be led by the PML (N) given that the party has already shown a majority with independents. PTI must draw a lesson from Al Gore’s acceptance of defeat in spite of the fact that he had won the popular vote and Florida counting remained suspect with the objective of ending the divisiveness in the US. Most unfortunately the PML (N) has decided to form a coalition with the corruption-tarnished Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazlur Rehman group. One would hope that the PML (N) leadership revisits its coalition with JUI (F) as to many of its voters it maybe reminiscent of the PPPs coalition partners in 2008.

Allegations of rigging are dividing the country and at present there is a need for unity to resolve the myriad issues that require urgent attention. This fact must be accepted by all political parties. This does not mean accept the results if there is proof of rigging but instead evidence of rigging must be presented to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and that entity alone should be allowed to take appropriate remedial measures without being cowed down by dharnas.

So where did PPP go wrong? Two major assumptions which formed the basis of President Zardari’s election strategy simply did not materialise on polling day: a split mandate at the centre which would have allowed the President to exercise his political acumen to cobble a coalition, an acumen that neither of the other two major national party leaders could, it was argued, possibly match given their personalities; and secondly even though Awami National Party (ANP) and PML (Q) were expected to lose big to the PML (N) and PTI yet no analyst fathomed the scale of these two parties’ losses in terms of retaining seats in the national assembly. Critics of the President also maintain that he miscalculated on the effectiveness of brand Bhutto given the scale of poor governance and corruption. The more virulent anti-Zardari camp maintains that a Bhutto by blood and not marriage alone is required to lead the campaign in the next elections if the party is to reclaim its national credentials.

The President should have looked at the election results of 1977 where his extremely bright and charismatic father-in-law also lost seats, though there is agreement that he would have won a simply majority though not the two-thirds majority he allegedly gave himself through rigging. The reason: performance is a major factor in democracies. The last five year’s performance has been appalling and until and unless the PPP learns how to govern better it may not be able to retain even Sindh in the next general elections. In this context it is unfortunate that reports indicate that the President is favouring the same team in Sindh as before.

Be that as it may, Shahbaz Sharif has accused the caretakers of terminating and subsequently appointing heads of various entities with a constitutional mandate of four to five years as well as regularising thousands in the Benazir Income Support Programme under the influence of the President. And yet the presumptive Prime Minister has said he would not seek the President’s impeachment and the President’s office has indicated that he would not resign before the end of his term. If the two keep to their promise intrigue in the Presidency which may, at times, be seen as targeting the PML (N) government would continue. Time will tell if the two protagonists namely President Zardari and the next elected Prime Minister would be able to work together in harmony for the next and a half four months.

To conclude there is a consensus that the 2013 elections were the most transparent ever in the country’s history however bottlenecks remain and must be ironed out before the next elections are held. The people of this country had confidence in the democratic process which led to the higher than ever voter turnout. Now it is time for the country to move forward and while charges and counter-charges must be investigated under the leadership of the ECP yet it is time for the parties to come together, and desist from dharnas and threats.

Anjum Ibrahim, "Rigging and formation of government," Business recorder. 2013-05-20.
Keywords: Political issues , Political parties , Political leaders , Political problems , Political change , Elections 2013 , Election results , Polling stations , Caretaker government , European Union , Pakistan , PTI , PMLN , JUI , PPPP