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ISLAMABAD: The air of uncertainty surrounding the fate of general polls finally cleared on Thursday with the conduct of the elections that remained generally peaceful but questions over the credibility of this electoral exercise continued to persist in the absence of a mainstream political force, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and mysterious delay in the election results issuance.

Till the filing of this report in the early hours of Friday, the PTI-backed independent candidates, in the unofficial poll results, were ahead of their rival candidates in several NA seats before the ECP’s much hyped Election Management System (EMS) ‘broke down’ under suspicious circumstances in the middle of transmitting the general election results.

It gave credence to speculations that elections were being rigged against the PTI-backed candidates keeping in view that the initial results were showing that these candidates were leading with visible margins against their rivals.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) did not comment on the matter. Some media circles quoted Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja as having confirmed that the EMS was down.

Election: the big picture is already clear

Later in the night, the results started to arrive when this report was filed.

The ECP claims that EMS is equipped with sophisticated features for the smooth transmission of polls results. However, a letter, written last week, by a returning officer of NA seat NA-197 Kamber-Shahdadkot to the district returning officer of the said seat raised serious questions about the efficiency and reliability of the EMS.

“Either the EMS is an utter failure or there is someone else that controls and manages the system behind the veil,” the RO wrote.

The electoral body confirmed the authenticity of the letter but avoided commenting on this issue any further.

Moreover, the unannounced closure of the cellular services, on the reported pretext of security threats, from early Thursday morning till the filing of this story, fuelled speculations of foul play in the elections.

Raja, the CEC, distanced himself from the cellular services blockade, saying that he did not direct the authorities to suspend the mobile phone services.

The suspension of cellular services would not affect the compilation of election results, he told the media.

In his message, the CEC congratulated the people of Pakistan and all the institutions that made successful the conduct of general elections possible.

He also expressed his special debt of gratitude to the international media and observers who especially came to Pakistan to observe the electoral process.

Regardless of the CEC claims, the polls were held in an air of uncertainty and fear drawn by security threats, allegations of massive poll-rigging, apparent denial of level playing field coupled with alleged state-sponsored coercion against the members of a political party, and undeclared curbs on the media.

All the mainstream parties, barring the PTI, contested the general elections. Following Supreme Court’s decision, last month, that disallowed the PTI to retain its election symbol, the PTI candidates contested the general elections as independents.

Reports from different parts across the country suggest that PTI members were mostly not allowed to run their respective election campaigns—by the officials of some powerful state institutions that allegedly use coercive and intimidating methods to suppress dissent.

Scores of footages are doing rounds on the social media wherein the officials of law enforcement agencies could be seen manhandling the PTI-linked candidates through torture and verbal abuse, arresting these candidates and intimidating them by launching late-night raids at their residences. The videos also revealed that families of the PTI-backed candidates are being harassed by unidentified plain-clothed men apparently to dissuade them from supporting Imran Khan’s political party

Apart from that, over 128.58 million citizens were the eligible registered voters for the general polls with 17,800 candidates in run for the five legislatures, and over 260 million ballot papers printed for the polls, according to ECP.

The electoral body says some 90,675 polling stations, comprising of 266,398 polling booths were set up for the elections. Of them, 16,766 polling stations were marked as highly sensitive and 29,985 as sensitive.

The general elections took place over a year after the dissolution of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies on January 14 and January 18, last year, respectively.

The NA was dissolved on August 9, Sindh Assembly on August 11 and Balochistan Assembly on August 12, last year.

Constitutionally, keeping in view the NA dissolution date, the cut-off date to hold the NA general elections within the 90-day period was November 7, last year.

Article 224(2) of the constitution provides that when the NA or a provincial assembly is dissolved, a general election to the assembly shall be held within a period of 90 days after the dissolution, and the results of the election shall be declared not later than 14 days after the conclusion of the polls.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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