With another showdown between the government and Imran Khan on the horizon, it is important to revisit the root of the current strife; rigging in the general elections of 2013. While much has been said about this subject, we still appear to have people who are not correctly informed as to what happened, or is alleged to have happened, and what are the evidences to support such allegations.
The crux of the arguments from the disinterested, misinformed commentators boils to what I came across in an op-ed around two months ago. Basically that neither the agitators have
“(1) a theory of how the (election) process could have been hijacked; and (2) evidence that the process was indeed hijacked in the manner suggested.”
This contention is just very, very wrong. Since the main battleground is Punjab, let’s focus on the theory and evidence of rigging there.
The basic allegation or theory is that the ROs or returning officers, that were from the judiciary, were not under the ECPs control and influenced the results in favour of one political party; the PMLN. The Election Commission itself has since admitted, and FAFEN has pointed out, that the ROs were not under its control. The ECP has further admitted that the ROs changed polling schemes in various constituencies and cleared many candidates without verification of eligibility to contest polls in light of the constitution.
For example, the constitution states that a person is disqualified from becoming a member of the National Assembly if he has not repaid a loan “for more than one year from the due date, or has got such loan written off”. Thus, according to the constitution, Nawaz Sharif (loan default) and Fehmida Mirza (load write-off) were not eligible to contest polls and are currently members of the National Assembly in violation of the Constitution of Pakistan, which is otherwise supreme.
However, the main transgression the ROs are alleged to have undertaken is changing the results in certain constituencies in favour of the PMLN. That is to say, that the votes cast for one party might be more than the PMLN, but the ROs, who were in charge of tabulating and announcing results, disregarded facts and ballots cast. Instead, they misused their authority to grant the PMLN votes that never existed, or docked votes cast to other parties, to produce a fake or forged result card in favour of the PMLN candidate/s.
In this endeavour they were often assisted by the POs or presiding officers, who delayed/refused announcing results in individual polling stations in order to give ROs time to change results, and/or refused to give polling agents of rival parties a signed Form XIV or statement of count as proof of polling record at individual polling stations.
A further allegation is that the Punjab Police favoured the PMLN candidates and facilitated them instead of trying to stop the party’s high handedness.
It is argued that the ROs, who were from the judiciary, supported the PMLN on account of Former CJP Iftikhar Chaudhary. Iftikhar Chaudhary’s conduct during his time as CJ Vis a Vis the PMLN is open to interpretation. However it is worth noting that his son, the flamboyant Mr. Arsalan Ifthikar took residence at the Punjab CM House Annexe to better conduct his well-documented “business” dealings. This was revealed in a leaked video of then Punjab Law minister Rana Mashood, which though PMLN sympathizers were quick to call forged, the minister himself confirmed as genuine.
The connivance of Presiding Officers and other polling staff, as well as the police, is blamed on the then Punjab Caretaker CM and journalist Najam Sethi. Sethi has since been personally appointed chief of the Pakistan Cricket Board by Nawaz Sharif, in violation of the PCB constitution. After courts removed Sethi, Mr. Nawaz appointed him again. More recently, Nawaz Sharif again personally nominated Mr. Sethi for the post of ICC Chairman.
Mr Sethi has never played cricket at the international or first class level, never commentated, nor does he have renowned administrative experience.
As caretaker CM of Punjab, Sethi was tasked with providing a neutral environment for elections, specifically with purging the influence of Shahbaz Sharif in the Punjab administration. Najam Sethi did not change the home secretary of the province, retaining the secretary that was an appointee of the PMLN government. The Punjab Police is ultimately answerable to the home secretary.
The bulk of the polling staff and POs are teachers and staff of government schools & colleges. Najam Sethi appointed Mubasher Raza as secretary higher education. He was serving as a secretary under the previous regime as well, described as a “favourite son” of Shahbaz, even by the Jang Group. Najam also did not change the Secretary Schools, Aslam Kamboh.
Basically, the Police and most, if not all, POs and polling staff, remained in the hands of Shahbaz Sharif appointees during election. It is not completely unreasonable then that they are blamed for manipulation of the process.
Aslam Kamboh’s role was particularly worrisome, as even before election candidates accused him of being tasked by Shahbaz to rig elections using polling staff.
For his part Najam Sethi explained that he had retained Aslam Kamboh at the request of UK High Commissioner, so as not to disrupt the UK Education Aid Program for Punjab. The UK’s Punjab School Education Programme-I ran from Dec 2009 to June 2014. The UK’s Punjab Education Support Programme-II runs from Feb 2013 to Mar 2019. Aslam Kamboh left the post of Secretary Schools for a choice posting as soon as Shahbaz Sharif assumed Punjab CM-ship, i.e. June 2013. It is unlikely that either of the Aid programs, or another program we might be unaware of, came to an undocumented end in June 2013. It is also unlikely that the month of May 2013 was pivotal in the outcome of said programs.
Still, what is the hard evidence of rigging? Before looking at the evidence though, we must acknowledge that the evidence collection & analysis process itself has been rigged in favour of the PMLN.
This is because the evidence in our case is the votes. And analysis of the votes is to be done by NADRA, which makes them, let’s say, forensic experts in the matter. Would you say this case was fair, if the accused illegally removed the forensic expert? And when the expert was reinstated by the courts, the accused threatened his school going daughter and forced him to flee the country?
For this is what is happened here, in front of everyone. The Prime Minister of our country had the school going daughter of NADRA chairman threatened, after failing in his illegal attempt to dislodge said chairman. After the chairman fled, Nawaz Sharif appointed one of his own in his place, who will now head examining of evidence against the premier.
It is unfortunate that many commentators, even those belonging to the legal profession, just ignore this fact, fact, like it didn’t happen, let alone admit it has bearing on the matter at hand.
Of course counter arguments and difference of opinion can never be ruled out. One can hold the opinion that threatening the life of a school going girl was in the best interests of democracy. One can contend that putting the police and polling staff in the hands of Sharif loyalists ensured a neutral administration. One can even argue that Mr Sethi has cricketing pedigree beyond mortal comprehension. But to disregard or feign ignorance of these events altogether is troublesome when assessing the 2013 elections.
Coming back to the election process, it has often only been explained until counting of the votes. The most important part however comes after; the sealing of all election material in a polling station including ballots, counterfoils (which record thumb impressions against each ballot and serve as countercheck for each vote cast) and statements of counts (number of votes cast against candidates votes have been cast for) of that station in a polling bag.
Sealing all the material in polling bags preserves the record, meaning it cannot be tampered with/changed afterwards. This is the guarantee that records cannot be changed after the counting process is completed.
Now let’s visit Lahore’s constituency NA 124.
The constituency had 264 polling stations, translating, ideally, to 264 sealed bags with polling materials, most importantly ballots & counterfoils as they were on election day. The PMLN candidate was declared winner by the RO and opposing parties cried foul. When inspection was finally carried out, 152 polling bags out of 264 were found not sealed or with their seals broken. 152 or 57% of the polling bags were tampered with, meaning the amount of ballots and counterfoils in them were illegally changed, in all probability. Because self-unsealing bags are not yet in production. Another 80 polling bags, or 30%, upon inspection revealed proven destruction of record and absence of counterfoils. Meaning evidence of actual number of votes cast in those polling stations had been conveniently removed, opening the door for mass ballot stuffing.
In NA 125, Lahore, there were complaints of rigging even when polling was going on against Khuwaja Saad Rafique of the PMLN. After the polling came to an end and the votes were counted, the presiding officers delayed issuing statements of count, and later flat out refused. The constituency’s results were announced the next day. When the “results” were finally put out, Khuwaja Saad Rafique appeared to have polled around 20K more votes than his provincial assembly counterparts in the constituency. This, to my knowledge, is the only constituency in Pakistan that witnessed such a phenomenon.
The discrepancy occurred not because of Saad Rafique’s considerable charm, but because statements of count were forged in the ROs office in his favour. Over a dozen forgeries for polling station statements were made with 100% voter turnout, ALL of them with Saad Rafique getting maximum votes. Many other forgeries of statements of count, hastily compiled, did not even contain a fake POs signature. ALL of these too have Saad Rafique receiving maximum number of votes. These have been brought to the attention of the tribunal, and even shared online, to no avail.
Upon inspection, 1 ½ years after the election, the record was found desecrated. Trash instead of polling material in polling bags, and in polling bags that did contain some polling material, voters lists were often missing. Where voter lists were available, the number of votes RO had forged on statement of count did not tally with the number of ballots present.
In NA 122, Lahore, Ayaz Sadiq is alleged to have rigged his way to victory. His “victory” too came after an inexplicable delay in the announcement of results. The tribunal in this case has not been able to inspect the record despite its best efforts for 1 ½ years. However, a glimpse into the constituency is provided by vote verification in six polling stations of its provincial counterpart, PP 147. According to the result manufactured by the RO 4,700 votes were polled here. However, only over 3,700 could be recovered from the polling bags. 700 of these were cast using fake CNICs. This is to say 1000 votes only existed in the ROs imagination, and a further 700 were fraudulent. That’s 36%.
In NA 128, the RO decided that PMLN candidate Malik Afzal Khokar shall be declared the winner, for reasons best known to him. Upon inspection of the record it has been revealed that 175, 175, POs did not submit any record of ballot papers used in their polling stations. Meaning ballot stuffing was, for all intents and purposes, untraceable. Even with a free hand in 175 polling stations, 30 thousand votes that the RO had counted did not actually exist. A further 21K ballots were missing when the polling bags were brought forward.
NA 118, Lahore. Malik Riaz, the PMLN candidate had “won” the election there, but an audit of the votes was proving troublesome, which led to the Tariq Malik episode. In the end, it was revealed that no record was found of over 80 thousand votes in the constituency’s polling bags. That is to say; the RO had added over 80 thousand votes to the final result of the election no evidence of whom was present upon physical inspection of the record.
Now, for anyone keeping count, that’s 5 out of the 12 Lahore constituencies that the PMLN “won”. 41% of the constituencies where the PMLN were declared winners by ROs on May 13/14 in Lahore have revealed evidence of mass scale result manipulation. I have deliberately not mentioned thumb print verifications because PMLN and their sympathizers are campaigning hard to undermine credibility of thumb print verifications.
Even without counting the unverified votes, mass manipulation is evident in 5 of the 12 Lahore constituencies the PMLN won. Manipulation, not irregularities. Use of bad ink is an irregularity, late opening of a polling station is an irregularity, lesser than subscribed amount of polling booths is an irregularity. Forged statements of count, missing counterfoils or missing ballots, unsealed and tampered with polling bags, and absence of votes counted by the RO towards final results, from the physical plane of existence, is evidence of manipulation.
In fact, short of Nawaz Sharif confessing in an address to the nation, there cannot possibly be any other evidence to substantiate the mass fraud that took place on May 13th.
5 of 12, in Lahore, the provincial capital with all the media’s eyes fixed upon it. 41%. How is that for “industrial scale”?
And it is not all. It can easily be 6 of 12, because NA 127 Lahore also has similar issues with statements of counts, it even has cases where the RO awarded more votes than were registered in a polling station, but the tribunal decided not to inspect the record. For reasons best known to everyone. 50%.
This phenomena is not restricted to Lahore either, this is a theme. According to what has been reported in the media so far, in almost every Punjab constituency where the tribunal was kind enough to grant a vote audit, similar mass fraud was unearthed.
In NA 139 Kasur PMLN had won. Upon PPP candidate’s request for audit of the result, it was revealed that of the 272 polling bags representing each polling station in the constituency, 12 contained litter instead of votes of the corresponding polling station. 32 polling bags did not contained counterfoils that did not have thumb impressions on them, 5 did not contain counterfoils to begin with. 27 polling stations had votes present far exceeding the number of counterfoils.
In all, 103, 400 votes were bogus. PPP are set to begin criminal proceedings against the RO.
In Hafizabad, 54 K counterfoils were recovered while the RO had stated that 72K votes were cast. A total of 21K were declared bogus.
In Lodrhan NA 154, inspection revealed that seals had been broken on polling bags from 80% of polling stations. 9,900 votes were rejected to in a winning margin of 10K votes, and a further 20,000 were proved to be bogus.
Again, except for a Nawaz Sharif confession on TV, the evidence is in the polling bags. What’s preventing the rest of it to come forward is the abysmal, non-transparent and illegal conduct of election tribunals. The election tribunals were legally mandated to decide these petitions within 4 months, which they did not. Even with the illegal delays, the tribunals have been incredibly reluctant to order inspection of records, let alone vote verification by NADRA. An extremely vast majority of petitions have been dismissed without any inspection of votes whatsoever. Even in instances where inspection is ordered and massive manipulation uncovered, like NA 124 with 87 % of polling bags were tampered or containing destroyed, missing record, the tribunals have ruled in favour of returning candidate. Who invariably tend to be from the PMLN.
It really is sad that people still prefer to indulge in partisan bickering rather than wake up to how comprehensively the elections, their elections, were manipulated.