I have written about it before. Earlier. It was on how the majority of votes cannot even be verified. You can check that out here, and please read it before reading this post.
Let’s start with hearings of complaints at Election Tribunals. Firstly, they are beyond the purview of the executive. Imran keeps on demanding the government or the challenged winners to ‘open’ the votes to verification, but they have no legal role in that. See detailed reports here and here. In reality, the government and influential candidates of course have influence over the timing of hearings and the delays. But delays in the court system aren’t unusual – duh – and the term of the tribunals has been extended, keeping in view the delays. The tribunals seem to be working just fine, only yesterday disqualifying a PML-N MPA over allegations of rigging.
The total number of complaints filed with the 14 election tribunals stands at 410. A total of 301 petitions (73.4%) have been decided by May 31. PTI filed 58 complaints, and 21 remain pending – 63.7% having been decided already. PML-N candidates filed a total of 66 petitions, with 28 yet to be decided. 65.57% petitions decided for N, on par with 63.7% for PTI.
It can, however, be reasonably argued that the government has influence over the judges and processions of the tribunals. Stay orders have been obtained against tribunal proceedings too. Many of the stay roses have been vacated – just an obstacle that a contender could use with no real legal victory possible – but the process has been deliberately slowed down. If that is the argument, than that is what should be argued, not that the government should ‘order’ verification of ballots – something it is not legally empowered to do so – or demanding outright an investigation and decision into the entire episode within two weeks, from a panel of Supreme Court judges.
Secondly, the party doesn’t even have a real desire to go for ballot verification. Based on the number of petitions filed by the party, even if all the constituencies for which petitions have been filed were turned over to PTI, the PML-N would retain a majority in the center and a supermajority in Punjab. One can suggest that the part is sticking to ideals and all that jazz. Well, it’s politics first and foremost, and a major reason seems to be to sell to their base the idea that they tried to bring a revolution and were blocked, and prevented from exposing rigging either.
One of the four constituencies demanded of is the constituency where Khawaja Asif won, and the PTI candidate having failed to show up for the Election Tribunal hearing (and unable to present any convincing proof of voter manipulation or fraud) was fined Rs 30,000 for wasting the court’s time. This is how serious the party actually is about the whole exercise. The party claimed to have trained their polling agents through training seminars (videos and presentations available on YouTube) and connected them to a centralized observation desk where proofs of manipulation and rigging could be received live. Yet, their white paper on rigging or any of the appeals filed to tribunals don’t contain large scale use of photo/video evidence of such exercises in fraud, or testimonies from their polling agents. The sole non-MQM ‘rigging’ audio-visual case is against Khawaja Saad Rafique, who maintains he went to the polling station to face off with PTI supporters who were not letting his supporters vote fairly. That remains a single, isolated PS as well. In comparison, PTI’s Billo de Ghar candidate, Abrar ul Haq, had his MPA candidate held by the Army (performing in aid of civil duty) for running away with ballot boxes and injuring witnesses by firing – a far greater volume of evidence from a more rural constituency. The polling agents also receive on behalf of the candidate Form XIVs – count details – and any mass fraud by the ROs would have been known at that very moment.
Thirdly, as I stated earlier, the majority of ballots cannot and will not be able to undergo fingerprint verification due to smudges, low quality thumbprints and lack of use of the ‘magnetic ink’ that NADRA claims was the magic potion (NADRA itself is as good as ISPR in it’s PR machine, thanks to retired Brigadiers working cushy jobs and obliging reporters). This can be seen in the much publicized case in NA-118 where only 34% of the ballots could undergo reliable fingerprint verification. Of those, only 146 were found to be multiple ballots by the same individual (0.92% of verified votes). 142 were found to be by people registered in different constituencies and 4,043 had invalid CNIC numbers.
A rule of thumb for Pakistan, or any developing world country with inefficient state bureaucrats and systems, is incompetence trumps malice as the reason for something not being right. That is not to suggest that malice isn’t common or manipulation doesn’t happen, but that incompetence is so widespread that it usually is the most likely and probable explanation. As I had explained in my previous post, it is very likely that ROs and the staff at polling stations did not copy the CNICs of the voters to the ballot papers correctly for each ballot. Of the 800 or so voters at each polling station, it is very likely that at least some ballot papers had wrong or incomplete CNIC numbers noted down. It is a 13 digit ID, and a single number throws off things. NADRA has only claimed that the CNICs were not of voters from that constituency, or even real CNIC numbed, but not that they verified the fingerprints anyways against their whole national, or constituency limited database of fingerprints. That is, they matched the fingerprint on the ballot with the one that existed for the CNIC in their database. The reason that is important is because Person A might actually have been registered in the constituency, his CNIC number jotted down on the ballot paper wrongly by the staff, and this showing up as a fake CNIC number, or one of a voter in a different constituency, even though he cast a legal and valid vote. If NADRA were to verify each of these ballot papers against wider databases, it is likely they will find cases of valid voter ballot papers being put into the list of wrong ones. These are subtle errors and causes and they have no appeal to the average voter being sold the idea of a post 23:20 victory speech rigging. And NADRA has no reason to go the extra mile or do their job properly anyhow, but in getting laurels for X.P.O.Z.I.N.G rigging.
As explained in a previous post, there is no scientific basis for the uniqueness of fingerprints between individuals. Rather, they just have a high dissimilarity. NADRA now claims – having never detailed their methodology, standards or the mystery of the ‘fingerprint matching software’ – that they use 15 minutiae for a match. The FBI used 10 point Level II and 5 point Level III minutiae to match the print to a wrong individual. The AFIS returned possible matches (it returns the possible match and closes non-matches) and an expert matched and testified to the fingerprint being responsible to Mayfield. In the case of NADRA, they are using a completely automated system, and 15 being a fairly high standard for matching, reducing false matches – there still remains a high probability of correct prints not being matched. The high threshold would reject matches as unverifiable, thereby inflating the number of unverifiable ballots and providing more evidence for a skeptical take on the election’s fairness than there should be.
Fourthly, even for constituencies where fingerprint verification has occurred or will happen, the law does not allow NADRA or the ECP to violate the secrecy of the ballot. That is to say, they cannot say how many of the multiple ballots, or unverifiable ballots, or ballots with wrong CNIC numbers belonged to which candidate. They can only dismiss the election if they are convinced based on result examination that large scale fraud happened. They cannot at any stage suggest that X out of Y multiple ballots polled were for candidate A.
This point is important because the PTI knows how to sell manipulated stories. Before the election, the PTI for months on kept crying over ‘fake voters list’ wherein they manipulated the excision of 37 million voters from the rolls due to various reasons as proof of 37 million fake voters on lists, who helped PPP, and all previous governments, win fake mandates. Imran cried about this in each and every jalsa and in each and every of his one million talk show appearances. The reality was that these weren’t ‘fake voters’ but mostly a result of change in election laws. For election 2013, CNICs were made compulsory and the old NICs could no longer be used. Due to lack of access to NADRA facilities in rural and remote areas, the vast majority of voters removed from rolls were in such areas, as they no longer held the ID needed for voting. Most of the 37 million were cases where due to missing data and lost files, NADRA could not reconcile old NIC data with new CNIC one, and these cases having been removed, were replaced by the same people having proper CNICs, or in the case of remote areas, no longer being on the roles. Another large number of names removed from the lists were due to wrong CNIC numbers, which again points to incompetence and wrong data entries in manually recorded voter cards transferred to digital lists. I point out this case because Imran & Co. talked about ‘fake voters’ for over an year and convinced not just their base, but the average TV watcher that indeed it was fake voters and fake elections.
The same thing will and is happening with fingerprint verification. I’m not talking about conveying subtle details and nuances to the people but outright manipulation of the reality. The party conveys to the crowd – with the help of idiotic editors trying to get good headline – that unverifiable votes are ‘bogus votes’ when they are just low quality fingerprints that NADRA cannot verify. Thereon, of the votes verified, the ones with conflicting CNIC information is sold as proof of rigging when there are equally valid and plausible explanations. Only the very small percentage of multiple balloting verified for a same individual can be conveyed as ballot stuffing. I’m not suggesting that ballot stuffing cannot have happened beyond that small verifiable pool but it certainly cannot be said to be vast ballot stuffing in a court of law based on the evidence provided. The party is not just doing that – and will continue to do that as cases keep on piling – but selling to the base that all the unverifiable and multiple ballots belonged to the winning candidate/their opponents and votes casted for PTI were verified as 100% true and real. As I mentioned earlier, neither does NADRA or ECP convey, nor can they convey what percentage of unverifiable or verified multiple ballots were for which candidate. But that distinction does not work for a well oiled party propaganda machine. The message is that all unverifiable ballots, or ballots verified to be from various categories of invalid belonged to PML-N and and 100% of PTI votes were valid. This of course is an outright, unverifiable lie. ‘80% bogus votes’ and stolen mandate will be a rallying cry for 2018 (or whenever Uncle Zaheer decides). All votes for PTI were valid, all votes for PML-N were bogus.
Lastly, please don’t forget that Geo was behind the victory speech and only 15% votes had been counted for most constituencies at 23:20 and UNDP did muk-muka with dollar khor government later on. Or that Najam Sethi did 35 punctures, or Iftikhar Chaudhary helped with rigging. Doesn’t matter if all claims are hilarious or easily rubbished, but the train moves on.
My point again is not that mass ballot couldn’t have happened but that the PTI is trying to act victimize by presenting flimsy evidence. As to why the PML-N just doesn’t accept his demand and get rigorous verification conducted for the ‘four’ constituencies: my guess is one, don’t want to be seen giving into his demands; two, ego; and three, even if one case of multiple balloting is found (and there will be a few of that, and of course large number of unverifiable ones), it will be used in a wider narrative of rigging, regardless of the size of vote tampering, and lastly, nobody wants the legitimacy of their victory questioned, especially under a microscope.
PML-N candidates, like all others, likely used cash and other voter mobilization tactics, some voter intimidation, collusion with staff and other methods to improve electoral performance. But large scale voter monitoring from international bodies held that it was a fair election – as fair as it can be in Pakistan, and under the eye of the TTP that let only approved parties campaign – and post election haste by local watchers like FAFEN only led to facepalms. For those who don’t know, FAFEN announced a long list of polling stations with more than 100% balloting in the very days after the election, causing widespread coverage in the news and convincing losing candidate voters of a fraud electoral exercise. Only that they had used an old voting scheme to match total voter counts versus total polled (these obtained from Form XIVs), and thus reached wrong conclusions. Their claims were rubbished rightly by the ECP, but headlines aren’t corrected in the people’s minds once they are established, and especially not in a case where such egregious and blatant fraud was exposed so simply. This is what passes for experienced, well trained and competent watchdog/think tank in Pakistan. Incompetence is more plausible an explanation than malice in many cases, even though fraud is rampant.
Post-script: Some constituencies where fingerprint verification has taken place have had their news kept low due to low propaganda value (no invalid votes found) or where mass multiple balloting was found, but the opponent wasn’t PML-N. There’s a case in Sindh where the victim isn’t PTI and one in eight ballots were definitively wrong but even there the wrong CNIC numbers case is sold as ‘bogus vote’.
NB: Please correct any misunderstanding of the law or facts.