Can evidence against PML-N ever be found?
First, a few observations on the new narrative being constructed about rigging; specifically the ‘election tribunals’ argument made famous by who appears to be Fakhruddin Ibrahim’s son. While many went gaga over it yesterday, this ‘view’ has been here for a month now. I first read it in a Dawn column at the start of last month, and in the Five Rupees blog the next day. Since then it has been furiously parroted by at least one PML-N guy on TV; the new Punjab law minister.
The argument basically is that the election tribunals are working fine, with 78% of the petitions disposed off already. ‘Already’ and ‘fine’ here are obviously relative to which side of the political divide you belong to.
The tribunals are supposed to conduct hearings day-to-day and under no circumstances grant an adjournment of more than seven days. They broke the law and granted adjournments of more than seven days on 2393 occasions. And ‘already’ it is almost a year after the stipulated time period for settling the petitions, with the new assemblies having served 25% of their term, and the process isn’t done yet. Next will be the appeals in the Supreme Court.
More importantly, the disposal of these petitions doesn’t have as much bearing on settling the rigging issue as you would think. That has to do more with the manner of their disposal.
Consider that 26 petitions never made it to tribunals, 28 were withdrawn and 22 dismissed due to non-prosecution. By far, the largest number was that 126 were dismissed on technical grounds (these include some of MQM’s wonders in Karachi), and 30 were dismissed due to ‘unknown reasons’ (Free and Fair Election Network – FAFEN tried and failed to obtain copy of orders).
Moreover, petitions which went into full trial and couldn’t be proved stand at 62. Petitions accepted stands at 24, with the most number of de-seated MPs belonging to the PML-N at 10. 62 by 24 is a pretty serious ratio. Make that 62 by 25 after another MP; again from the PML-N, was de-seated on allegations of rigging in PP-97 Gujranwala. Additionally, even the petitions that went into full trial and couldn’t be proved include many where influential government figures held sway and recounts or vote verifications were never carried out.
Which brings us to NA 110; Khuwaja Asif’s victory here was challenged by the PTI, as one of four constituencies where they demanded recount and vote verification. Video evidence of PML-N polling agents stuffing ballots is below:
Vote verification was never carried out. Instead, as Mr Ibrahim pointed, the tribunal found that the petitioner was non-serious. This example was also quoted in the initial Five Rupees blog, which sourced the two pages of the verdict from a defence.pk forum. Also available on the forum was the version of the petitioner, which has been ignored by both the initial blog and the recent article.
The petitioner claimed that he had in fact attended all hearings but the court did not grant the request for vote verification. Later, when he travelled abroad with the consent of the tribunal; a hearing was set in his absence and he was declared absent and disinterested in the said hearing. So while vote verification, or even a recount, never took place, the official record for this petition will read:
“Not proved in trial”.
The order in NA 110 by election tribunal, apparently annoyed with adjournments from petitioner, is dated May 12. On May 16, speaker of the national assembly, Ayaz Sadiq, got his stay order extended against recount in NA 122. He clearly hasn’t annoyed any judge. NA 122 is the second NA constituency where the initial demand for recounting and verification was made.
A glimpse into this constituency is provided by vote verification in six polling stations of its provincial counterpart: PP 147. The record for the six polling stations showed that around 4700 votes were polled here. However, only over 3700 could be recovered from the bags, around 700 of them were cast using fake CNIC numbers on the counter-foils.
The third NA is 125 with Khawaja Saad Rafique. The petition filed against him states that, at the very least, 15 polling stations in the constituency that polled at 100 % should be opened up for verification. 15 different polling stations had a voter turnout of 100 %. However, no verification has been ordered.
Voters in the area filmed and photographed Khawaja Saad barging into one women’s polling station after the other, an upright police SP in tow. The current minister later claimed that he went to the polling stations because all of them and these are his words,
“Were taken over by PTI women.”
In the storied history of Pakistani elections, this is the first instance an MNA and a police SP had to rush to different polling stations in order to liberate them from women.
There is another instance of a polling incident involving women and PML-N. In the by-elections after the 2008 election, PML-N workers and police barged into a women’s polling station. They grabbed the ballots from PML-Q women supporters. Before running away with the ballots, they beat the women, molested and “de-shalwared” them, as witnessed and reported by Marvi Memon.
The last NA constituency is NA 154. It saw Siddique Khan Baloch gain 40,000 or so votes, overnight, to beat Jehangir Tareen by around 10,000 votes, with rejected votes over 9,000. Two days later, his historic turnaround victory made sense when it was announced he would be joining the PML-N.
After a year of stays, when recounting commenced, the ballots were found infested with termites. Polling bags are supposed to be sealed after counting so no votes can be added or taken out; 80% were unsealed.
Overall, the three most common complaints in the election process have been:
1) ROs, who were judges, helping one party or another and fudging the vote counts provided by Presiding Officers; a la “typo”.
2) Collusion of POs and polling staff with one party or another to stuff ballots, slow down women’s voting etcetera.
3) Refusal to sign and hand over Form XIVs, polling details and vote count, by POs to polling agents. This can later be used to tally with ROs counts. But only if you get it, get it?
In fact, according to FAFEN, 212 of the petitions that made it; election tribunals levelled allegations of corrupt or illegal practices by the administration, election officials and/or polling staff.
This has different connotations for different areas. In Balochistan, of course, the military didn’t want Akhtar Mengal Abdul Qadir Baloch to win and large scale voter suppression (PML-N’s Abdul Qadir Baloch won by polling a whopping 7,000 votes), helped achieve that end. In Karachi, the votes were going to the MQM or the polling staff were going to boris.
So who did it in Punjab, and how?
Nobody talks about this for obvious reasons, but I am sure everyone in the loop, knows.
In the first week after the election, bureaucrats in Lahore were telling anyone who would listen that Aslam Kamboh and Justice Ramday were the king’s men who did what was necessary.
The Election Commission admitted, and FAFEN pointed out, that they did not have complete authority over the ROs. The ROs are answerable to the courts and the POs to their relevant government departments, which, for a large part, happen to be the education department.
In subsequent reports, FAFEN has recommended that the ECP should be empowered to suspend and take action against these public functionaries.
However, the damage in this election has been done. Perhaps stung after finding ‘radi’ filled in polling bags of Kasur; Aitezaz Ahsan is the first and only person I can think of who spoke about Justice Ramday and Justice Khawaja Sharif coordinating the activities of ROs on May 11, to the benefit of the winners in Punjab.
Some police officers were transferred from Punjab to Balochistan before Najam Sethi took office as caretaker CM, not while he was there. While Muneeb and Khawaja Saad will have you believe that he shuffled around the Punjab government, as much as humanly possible, he did forget to remove one guy.
Aslam Kamboh, who had been serving as Shahbaz Sharif’s secretary for schools since 2009 , was accidentally and totally unintentionally allowed to remain in that position by future chairman PCB, Najam Sethi, during elections. No wonder POs (or government school teachers) were so reluctant to sign Form XIVs. Nobody has publically taken his name so far, but the PTI have hinted at it lately, so he might come up before August 14.
But will it make a difference? Not likely. In a country where the caretaker CM of a province said, on air, that rigging took place and he wasn’t “allowed” to go outside on Election Day, in the same show where the anchor had ballots in his hand, people are still looking for evidence of rigging.
Evidence that can satisfy these people, and the Pakistani courts, is hard to come by.
It is even harder to come by against the Sharif family. Affidavits against them by colluders in riggings past are not it, nor are admissions of money laundering, videos of their goons beating people or even audio tapes of Shahbaz Sharif influencing a judge.
There’s never any ‘evidence’ against the Sharifs.
While it’s hard to match the resolve shown in not finding evidence against the Sharifs, people on the other side now have somewhat comparable views on rigging. With the ECP and judiciary already viewed as controversial, to say the least, vote verification by NADRA seemed the only alternative that could satisfy them. But the whole episode with NADRA chief, Tariq Malik, from his illegal removal by Nawaz Sharif to the current arrest plans, has put an end to that option. And while the court noted that Tariq Malik was threatened and put under pressure to resign, evidence against the Sharifs again eluded them.
Well, buckle up then.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.