Dawn Editorial 

THE botched conduct of the Feb 8 election continues to haunt the Election Commission of Pakistan. After failing to meet the legal deadline of Feb 22 to publish all Form 45s, the Commission finally released the documents on Tuesday, in the process triggering another storm of complaints regarding blatant and, in some instances, rather crude manipulation of electoral results.

The Form 45, which is a tally of all votes cast at a polling station for each of the contesting candidates, is the formal documentation of the first and most important step in the post-poll vote-counting exercise. A copy of it is supposed to be issued to the nominee of each candidate who witnesses the count of ballots. Since the result of an election is built on the consolidation of individual Form 45s issued by presiding officers from each polling station, the integrity of these forms is what ultimately legitimises the poll exercise.

In the case of the recent general election, many candidates had complained that the Form 45s they received from the presiding officers in their respective constituencies were showing very different results than those announced by the ECP after unlawful and as yet unexplained delays.

There were several rival candidates and even entire parties endorsing the PTI’s claim of victory on various seats based on the Form 45s collected by them, even though official results had declared some other candidate as the winner. Since the ECP’s copies of its Form 45s had not been shared till earlier this week, it was impossible to determine where exactly the official count and the Form 45s issued to candidates had deviated. The documents now released seem so full of inconsistencies and errors that they have bolstered the persistent allegations of widespread tampering with results and strengthened independent observers’ demands for a transparent audit of election results.

Where, on the one hand, the ECP insisted on rigid interpretations of election rules and laws to deny the PTI its bat and the Sunni Ittehad Council its share of reserved seats, it cannot expect the nation to look the other way when it comes to its own violations of legal deadlines and failure to explain the glaring anomalies in its announced results.

This duplicity cannot be condoned. Given how crudely vote counts have been overwritten in some of the Form 45s shared by the ECP, the Commission must explain why it considered it appropriate to announce winners and allocate seats based on seemingly tampered documents without conducting some kind of cross-checking first.

It must also organise an immediate, independent audit of the election results that have been contested, which all important stakeholders should be invited to witness. It will prove extremely difficult for the nation to move forward unless these disputes are resolved.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2024

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