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Since night of 11 May 2013, Mr Imran Khan is continuously criticizing the Returning Officers (ROs) for their alleged rigging in the General Elections. Whereas the winning party is denying the allegation of rigging. With PTI call for Long March, the issue has reached its pinnacle. Majority of Pakistanis are confused to whom they should believe; PTI or PML (N).

During my service as Civil Judge, I have worked as RO in 2001and 2005 Local Bodies Elections. I have also performed duty as ARO in 2002 General Election. The purpose of this write-up is to share my experience to apprise Pakistanis about the alleged rigging in 2013 Election. I hope this will help the people to understand the veracity or falsehood of alleged rigging.

First of all, it is pertinent to mention that who are ROs? In 2013 Election, ROs were appointed amongst district judiciary. Additional District and Session Judges were appointed as ROs. These judges are the judicial officers, who on judicial side try murder cases. They are empowered to award death sentence, which is the highest punishment provided under the law. This means that the said officers are very responsible persons. They are not the bunch of peoples who can be hired for committing wrongdoing in Election.

Any person who understands the process of election knows that it is impractical for the ROs to do the kind of rigging which is alleged by PTI. In this regard, following points needs considerations;

  1. Of course ROs are the overall supervisor of election in a constituency but RO is not present at every polling station. At polling stations, election is conducted by presiding officers, who are mostly from education department. Before start of voting, the ballot boxes are shown to pooling agents of all contesting candidates to ensure that these boxes are empty. Unless all pooling agents give approval voting process does not start. Even otherwise, the ballot boxes are transparent.
  2. Then each and every voter is verified by all pooling agents. Voters cast votes in the ballot box in front of all pooling agents.
  3. When the pooling time ends, the ballot boxes are open in presence of pooling agents.
  4. The counting is done before the very eyes of pooling agents.
  5. The result is finalized in presence of pooling agents and copies of such result are handed over to all pooling agents.
  6. The ballot papers are provided to ROs keeping in view the numbers of votes in a constituency. The ROs has to keep an account of each ballot paper.

From above-said, it is writ large that the allegation that before the start of polling time, ballot boxes were filled with about thirty thousand votes already  casted in favor of a PML(N) candidate is absolutely ridiculous and false. Likewise the allegation that in every constituency, about fifty thousand bogus votes were cast in favor of PML (N) candidate is nothing more than a pack of lies. As already mentioned this type of rigging is not possible due to presence of pooling agents.

Another allegation  against ROs is that the results prepared by the presiding officers were changed by ROs and votes cast in favor of PML(N) candidates were malafidely enhanced by ROs. It is made clear that RO only calculates the votes according to result prepared by presiding officers. ROs can’t change the numbers of votes of any candidates because the pooling agents have a counter copy of results. So if any RO changes the numbers of votes, he can be easily contradicted by the counter copy prepared by presiding officers and available with pooling agents. If a single instance of changing of result is proved against RO, he might lose his job on this sole ground. Hence no RO dares to change result. The upshot is that it is not possible for RO to do the alleged rigging.

Another proof of alleged rigging put forward by PTI is that before election, ROs were addressed by Mr. Iftikhar Ch Ex-CJP and in said address, ROs were ordered by Ex-CJP to ensure win of PML(N) candidates. Any person having experience of public service knows very well that whenever any public servant is directed by higher officer to do some illegal thing, this is not done through public address. Such types of directions are not passed directly by the head of department and that too in a public address. Such types of directions are passed secretly and through intermediaries.

Besides, does it appeal to a prudent mind that such a big scale rigging was done by ROs under the directions of EX-CJP, but up till now, even after retirement of Ex-CJP, not a single RO has directly or indirectly revealed this fact to media they were forced to do rigging.

Let’s analyze the issue of alleged rigging from another perspective. If the allegation of rigging are believed for the sake of arguments. It means ROs were working in connivance with PML (N). In such scenario, I fail to understand that why the PML(N) allowed their worst enemies like Ch Pervaiz Elahi and Sheikh Rasheed to win election. How Ch Nisar Khan, main leader of PML (N) suffered defeat at the hands of PTI candidate Gulam Sarwar Khan. ROs would have easily changed results in said constituencies.

From the statements of PTI Chief, it appears that ROs along with other Govt. agencies were ensuring the success of PML (N) candidates, then how PTI won election in KPK.

The fact of matter is PTI did not lose elections due to rigging of ROs but due to its own wrong policies. One of these is wrong allocation of tickets. When the tickets were granted most of PTI workers has lost hope of any change. After observing the ticket awarding policy of PTI, intellectual like Mr Hassan Nisar, although supporter of PTI, has predicted the defeat of PTI.

Before election, when Mr Imran Khan was holding press conference at Serena Hotel, he was boasting about his success by saying that his party has awarded 35% tickets to youth and have uprooted hereditary politics. Ironically, it said press conference, on one side of Imran Khan, Mr Hammad Azhar son of Ex-Governor Punjab Mian Azhar, was sitting  whereas on other side, Ch Asif son of Ch Ameer Hussain Ex-Speaker NA and close associate of Pervaiz Musharaff, was sitting. Seeing this contradiction in Mr Imran Khan’s words and action, many PTI supporters like me got disappointed.

In 2013 election, I was a staunch supporter of PTI; hence I very closely observed the Intra-Party election conducted by PTI. These elections should have become a model for General Elections 2013. I can safely say that 2013 General Elections were much fairer than PTI Intra-Party Elections. I just quote few examples to substantiate my argument.

In PTI Intra-Party Elections, most of voters at district level elections were personal servants, friends and relatives of candidates. It is common knowledge that a PTI candidate for the seat of president Lahore used money   for winning and he won.

In my district MBDin, two rivals groups of PTI hold elections on two different dates. Both claimed to win election. Notification was issued in favor of one group. The other group challenged said result before the Election Tribunal constituted by PTI. On one date of hearing, I went to PTI office at Faisal Town, Lahore. Mr. Jusitice(R) Bashir a Mujahid, member of Tribunal came to office for hearing of election petition. But he was informed that neither the staff nor files were available.

In Gujrat, on the preceding night of Punjab Body Elections, the result was changed. There was serious allegation of rigging in Intra-Party Election conducted in district Sialkot.

I do not claim that in Pakistan election process is fair. There are definitely many shortcomings in the election process and much more need to be done to make the election process transparent. Rigging is done in elections but the modes and means are different.  To attribute all such rigging to ROs is absolutely unfair and unjust.

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