For the first time in Pakistan’s electoral history, political parties are discussing the possibility and modus operandi of investigating the quality of General Elections 2013 with the purpose of determining whether they were “rigged”. Election audits are very rare, and such an investigation is a complex and technical task. Therefore, it is understandable that there have been delays in finalizing the scale and scope of the probe so that it is mutually agreeable to the political parties on both sides of the deadlock.
There is no standard methodology or procedure to investigate an election. In general,
the aim of an audit is to determine whether the election result accurately reflects the will of the voters who cast ballots on Election Day – in other words whether the votes on Election Day were cast by duly registered voters, were counted correctly, and then were added together accurately to reach the final election result. An audit is a technical investigation based on physical evidence and materials facts i.e. the ballot boxes, ballots and official election documentation including results forms.
The audit in Afghanistan of the June 2014 Presidential run-off election was unprecedented in international election practice – a “complete” audit has never been attempted before anywhere in the world. Every vote cast in Afghanistan was scrutinized under the guidance of United Nations election experts by independent observers and relevant political stakeholders, but the process was long and tedious. Scrutiny of about 8 million votes in more than 22,800 ballot boxes using a 16-point checklist required almost eight weeks (from 17 July to 6 September 2014). However, the audit never progressed as planned. Such an approach in Pakistan’s parliamentary system would not be logical or workable on a nationwide scale, since more than 90 million ballots were cast in 272 separate National and 577 Provincial Assembly constituency elections during general election 2013. However, it would be possible to conduct a partial or complete audit of one or more individual constituencies.
Another way of investigating an election is to submit a petition (case) challenging the election result to a court or specialized tribunal established for this purpose. In Pakistan, this process is defined in chapter XII of the Representation of Peoples Act 1976, but it has never been implemented effectively. This method heavily relies on the law of evidence and court procedures, which in Pakistan are in some ways ill-suited to the election context and are commonly utilized by the parties to delay or manipulate election tribunals’ investigations. In Pakistan’s parliamentary system, an election result petition challenges the election in one National or Provincial Assembly constituency, but does not investigate the elections in general. In addition, election officials (including any judicial or government official deputed to perform any election duty) cannot be accused of wrongdoing through an election petition under Pakistan’s current election law. In 2013, a total of 410 election result petitions were filed, of which more than 65 have yet to be decided by the tribunals.
The ongoing dialogue among the political parties is a step forward towards resolving the current political deadlock through an audit of the 2013 general elections. In the coming days, they should conclude the terms of reference of an election investigation that could determine, based on concrete evidence, whether the election result in one or more constituencies does not reflect the will of the voters who cast ballots on Election Day. In other words, were the ballots cast by duly registered voters, were those ballots counted and recorded properly, and did the votes in all polling stations in a constituency add up to the announced final election result?
If the election result is invalidated in one or more constituencies, there should be a by-election in those constituencies, at a minimum. If the election result is invalidated in sufficient number of constituencies where the ruling party candidate won, then the ruling party would no longer have a majority in the National Assembly, and early elections may be called. However, by-elections or fresh elections should only be held after correcting the systemic procedural issues that have always undermined the quality of elections in Pakistan.
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