Were Pakistan’s 2013 elections really rigged?

Published: June 13, 2014

By repeatedly hammering away at the infamous ‘four constituencies’, Imran is pushing at a door that can very easily lead to a complete invalidation of last year’s election results. PHOTO: AFP

By repeatedly hammering away at the infamous ‘four constituencies’, Imran is pushing at a door that can very easily lead to a complete invalidation of last year’s election results. PHOTO: FILE By repeatedly hammering away at the infamous ‘four constituencies’, Imran is pushing at a door that can very easily lead to a complete invalidation of last year’s election results. PHOTO: AFP By repeatedly hammering away at the infamous ‘four constituencies’, Imran is pushing at a door that can very easily lead to a complete invalidation of last year’s election results. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

13 months on, and the issue of electoral rigging is still alive and well. Many of us wish this were not so; that Imran Khan would just give it a rest and get on with his parliamentary duties rather than taking his band of merry men town to town, stirring up the same issue like a broken record.

Quite a few also suspect that the purpose of his actions may not simply be the pursuit of justice or even electoral reform. For them, it seems quite logical to assume darker motives. Such speculation is eminently justified given the events currently unfolding in the country.

However, on his side, Imran has one very basic point that makes him infuriatingly difficult to refute: the element of doubt.

By repeatedly hammering away at the infamous ‘four constituencies’, Imran is pushing at a door that can very easily lead to a complete invalidation of last year’s election results. Ironically enough, it is many of the staunchest proponents of democracy in the country who seem to have found themselves vocally opposing his demands for result verification and transparency. In fact, almost everyone other than those actively opposing the sitting government seems to be hesitant to revisit the election results.

So, why is everyone so irritated by Imran’s continued insistence?

The reason seems simple: everyone suspects things were not completely above board during the election.

It appears that there is a general understanding that there was a less-than-complete compliance with the rules and procedures involved in ensuring a free and fair election. The problem has, thus, moved from whether there was some element of rigging to whether it had a significant impact on the overall outcome of the election. This is where Imran’s critics know how much of a nuisance he can be if he starts highlighting any and all non-compliance to cast doubts on the validity of the election results. The inevitability of finding unverifiable votes, non-existent CNIC numbers, multiple votes from the same individual, and the likes, mean there is a grey area that provides ample space for speculation.

The whole procedure of the interpretation of election results, thus, no longer remains an absolute phenomenon, and instead becomes an interesting problem in uncertainty and inference. Given that we know the system to be less than perfect at recording votes, at what point do we consider these results to be useless for interpreting the will of the voters? Should one or two dubious votes be enough to deem an election result invalid? Should a thousand? Should 10,000? These are the uncomfortable questions most people seem intent on avoiding.

If we consider the actual votes to be a signal of voter intent and actions that violate the stated procedure to be noise, we need to consider two questions.

Firstly, is there a possibility of bias in the noise? That is, would violations systematically favour one party over the other? As it stands, Imran is vehemently insisting that this is exactly what has happened. He accuses the electoral machinery of favouring the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) over others.

Secondly, is the level of noise small enough to be ignored? This means, even if no one party was being favoured over the other, it is possible that the results are so manipulated from sides that actual votes become irrelevant to the result.

So far, we are dealing in very simple probabilistic terms. If we were to start considering the election process to be a complex dynamic system (which it is) we might see even more serious repercussions stemming from the slightest aberration.

As it stands, the only responses to Imran’s incessant noise-making seem to be insisting that the noise was not systemic (pointing to dubious Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) victories) and completely ignoring the issue of signal-to-noise ratio.

The PML-N initially responded to PTI’s demand for verification by claiming that it was impossible to do due to issues with the ink used during the elections. They currently seem to have agreed to acquiescing to this demand, as well as throwing four more constituencies into the mix. In doing so, they will be putting themselves into a precarious position.

On the one hand, they might be successful in showing that any statistical aberration in the election results is not systematic. However, on the other hand, they may also end up proving the statistical insignificance of the election results. If eight, rather than just four constituencies, had their results determined by chance (or manipulation) rather than by the actual will of the voters, this just confirms that there is a large amount of noise in the electoral system itself. This serves to further strengthen the point that the outcome of the elections had little correlation with the actions of the voters.

It is also important to note that the concept of things ‘evening out’ is not much consolation to the voters who are unable to have a say in electing their local representative. If rigging means that a constituency that would have gone to PTI went to the PMLN, and the reverse happened in another, the result card for the assemblies may be the same, however, the result is that there are now two constituencies where people are represented by someone they did not elect.

From the perspective of the voting public, the introduction of noise into the voting system results primarily in reducing their say in the actual process of electing their representatives. If factors other than the actual votes cast start to overshadow the actual process, the result will be a loss in voter confidence and a further reduction in voter turnout.

This, in itself, poses an interesting issue, as reduced voter turnout further introduces bias into the system, as it leaves a particular type of voting public in play, and removes others. Needless to say, it is newcomers such as PTI (who are more dependent on newer voters) that fear this outcome than traditional ones.

As it stands, the situation is extremely fragile for all involved.

Imran’s intentions in repeatedly calling for result verification can be called into question, but his demands are logically sound. The fact that such large proportions of votes are unverifiable due to the incompetence of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) means that it may be impossible to fully ascertain how reliably the results reflect the will of the people.

The actual impact may have had no impact whatsoever, or they could have made all the difference – there is no way to tell. The only certainty in this situation is that this hodgepodge is the doing of the powers that were responsible for conducting the election; it is they who have brought the country to this point.

If we are to continue proudly declaiming our commitment to the democratic process, there should be a unanimous call to bring the perpetrators to justice. In fact, more than the PTI, it is the sitting government that should be actively pursuing whoever has led to a situation where their victory has been soured and their legitimacy is being called into question.

Do you think the 2013 general elections in Pakistan were rigged?

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Amin Hussain

A marginally employed ex-engineer who is interested in history, Amin tweets as @copy_pencil. twitter.com/copy_pencil

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Shakir Lakhani

    Why is it that only PTI is making such a noise about rigging? Why are the PPP, JUI-F, MQM, JI and all the others satisfied that the elections were free and fair? Imran Khan wants power at all costs and he’s decided to destabilize the country to become the next prime minister.Recommend

  • aaaaaa

    One of the four constituencies is NA-154. Jehangir Tareen lost. He demanded a
    recount. He got a recount. He still lost. He got a second recount. He still lost. There was a third recount. He STILL lost. Actually ended up losing by a bigger margin than originally. Then he went to court and got a stay order against the recount he himself had demanded. Need I say more?

    “The inevitability of finding unverifiable votes, non-existent CNIC numbers, multiple votes from the same individual, and the likes, mean there is a grey area that provides ample space for speculation.”

    NA – 118 is a test case here. The facts:

    Total votes cast in NA-118: 169,137.

    Total rigged votes: 604.

    In other words, total rigged votes formed 0.36% of total votes cast.


    My god, what blatant, world record, unprecedented, systematic rigging no? 0.3% of votes in one constituency is enough to overturn the credibility of an entire election isnt it?

    And only an idiot would be blind to the motives of the coming together of establishment stooges at the same time. PTI, PMLQ, TuQ and Sheikh Rasheed.Birds of a feather, flocking together. Search your brain as to why. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist.Recommend

  • Docter Dunger

    This was not rigged even tricked by our foreign enemies who can do any thing in pakistan by money… Cast fake votes every side, N whoever wins tell loosers that election has been rigged… And enjoy cat and dog fight..!Recommend

  • Parvez

    On this particular issue……..I feel Imran Khan is doing the right thing.
    For too long our political leaders have thrived on the politics of patronage to enrich themselves at the expense and under the name of the people…….THIS SYSTEM HAS TO CHANGE.Recommend

  • pakiboy

    congrats on solving the biggest of mysteries aroundRecommend

  • Aik-Paki

    An excellent analysis of election rigging in 2013. I hope our people on the top try to understand your article and act on time.However, I am afraid they don’t have the brain to comprehend your analysis on rigging of 2013 election and how to get out of it. I appreciate the logical conclusions made the author who is basically an engineer.
    Very well argued and written.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    wow, good try there to make the rigging a “grey area”. do you even know what a gray area is? this is a pure and simple case of rigging, they did it, they know it, they even tried to cover it up. And still you are not sure if they did it? LOLRecommend

  • Stellar

    Incoherent, inconsistent, confused and senseless article. What is writer trying to say here? Recommend

  • Qaiser Habib

    Mr Imran Khan please resign and go to election again. Other wise you are creating a situation of a fresh martial law.Recommend

  • Qaiser Habib

    System will definitely change and Mr. Imran Khan will be PM and PML-N will be on the streets with allegations of rigging.Recommend

  • sarfraz

    Election simply rigged and government has no answer to imran demands. Recommend

  • Ahsan Shah

    Your comment is Incoherent, inconsistent, confused and senselessRecommend

  • Parvez

    As I mentioned……on this I am with Imran Khan……but I do know that just wishing it to happen will not make it happen……it needs work, dedication and leadership.Recommend

  • salman

    Guys 85% voted yes for rigging. Should we listten to 85% opnion on this article or 15%. PML nasebo nawz got paid people to comment here trust me. You can see from there comments. PML Nasebo has not suppoters hereRecommend

  • Anon

    Thats not completely true, is it…

    ” the record of only 68 of 251 polling stations in the constituency were
    provided to NADRA. The total number of votes here was 46,118 and only
    15,835 voters’ thumbprints were verified.”

    “The report concluded that the fingerprints of 25,636 counterfoils could not be verified as the correct ink was not used”

    So out of a total of 169,137, a total of15,835 are verifiable. Out of those 15835 around 600 were confirmed to be false. So, all the other votes? Nobody knows!

    They could all be valid… or not! No way to tell…

    And that’s the point. Why is there no way to tell? and who is to blame for it?Recommend

  • Anon

    Seriously? What was wrong with my reply to this?

    Ok, let me just share the link where this claim is torn to shreds….


    basically on 15,835 out of 169,137 were verifiable…. 46118 made it to NADRA… over 4500 were found to definitely be invalid….25,636 couldnt be checked…. and for everything else… nobody knows!Recommend

  • Abdullah

    WHat a shame that when u cant defend something you change the facts..In NA 118 it is found that the record from 68 polling stationswere given to NADRA out of total 251 and only in these 68 polling stations 37% votes were found bogus with wrong CNIC numbers.If NA 118 is a test case,then buddy in this test you have badly failed http://tribune.com.pk/story/719730/electoral-fraud-nadra-finds-rigging-in-records-of-na-118/Recommend

  • Abdullah

    There is not a shadow of doubt that elections 2013 were rigged and those denying it are simply servants of a particular political partyRecommend

  • RHR

    We need to get electronic voting to reduce chances of riggingRecommend

  • RHR

    I cannot understand author’s point of view to say that rigging happened by chance. I appreciate imran khan’s efforts to keep this issue alive. He is a true leader who wants to get the systems right. Does not believe in taking turns or family politics. If he wanted he could have got people to continue protesting and not accept the results. He realised if he had gone on that route these family politicians might not have created situation like 1971. He is right in asking to investigate 4 constituencies or even 8 if PMLn wants to. This will prove what happened and pave the way for a better and transparent voting system..Recommend

  • Kabsa

    Yes elections were rigged,thats why govt is running away from recounting in just 4 constituenciesRecommend

  • Shahina Bari

    Cudn agree more!Recommend

  • Shahina Bari

    Ure absolutely right!Recommend

  • I think the author has done a great job of condensing the problem. Of course the election process had irregularities, Pakistani is a large and impoverished country, has poor institutional capacity, and the turnout in the last elections was a historic high. But the questions is how large were the irregularities and were they random? While there may have been biases in these irregularities in place, I, and I suspect the electorate, have been convinced for the most part that the resulting parliamentary picture represented voters’ aspirations.

    Imran Khan knew this too, and that was why he proceeded with forming a government in KPK and sitting in the assemblies for many months before he realized that there might be something to whipping up a storm as the government loses its sheen. His unseemly haste to get to the corridors of power by hook or by crook may do lasting damage to Pakistan’s fragile democracy unless the system finds a means of co-opting him without upsetting the boat. Giving him the position of the opposition leader so he personally has a constitutional role in the system may be one such method.Recommend

  • The writer did a great job of breaking things down like a good engineer. I really appreciated his systematic analysis. That you can’t keep up is not his fault.Recommend

  • Kashif

    “Why are the PPP, JUI-F, MQM, JI and all the others satisfied that the elections were free and fair?”
    Correct your facts. In 2013 elections, every party said that Election has been rigged even PMLN. If IK wanted power, it wasn’t so difficult for him. He was international renowned celebrity and was very famous. Thus he was offered many times to be in power. Its sheer ignorance that people are still in doubt of rigging, while current results of some constituencies have proved that it was a massive rigging.Recommend

  • JB

    That is your reply to rigging? Seriously?Recommend

  • MJ

    I’ve got eye witnesses that there was rigging. Recommend

  • Shahid Hameed

    Mechanism of electoral rigging in Pakistan Part – 1 illegal vote of foreigners.
    Some Public office holder politicians have organized electoral rigging system for the increased of their vote bank.
    Easy target of these politicians is Afghan refugees so politicians facilitate and organized all procedure with the help of some corrupt NADRA employees. Important thing in all procedure is attestation of NADRA forms for this purpose politicians do have Fake stamp of their name and required signature is also done by hired another person who is expert to do fake signature of politicians.
    Another procedure is that senior politicians MNAs MPAs and senators force their junior Politicians to do attest foreigners CNICs form (to UC Chairman and councilors) sometimes politicians do with original signatures and stamp but this is almost suicide action for them.
    According to sources NADRA had issued only Notice to these traitors that may be they have been attested suspected aliens but never been investigate the matter. The reason is political interference in NADRA and lack of forensic evidences because of fake signatures and fake stamps.
    But some cases had been published in media MNAs MPAs Senators UC Chairmans & Counselors found positive to did attested foreigners CNICs forms. Cases has been registered by FIA.Recommend

  • BayAreaPakhtun

    Why are we speculating rigging was done in PTI favor?Recommend