Naya Pakistan: Brand New Electoral Politics

There has been reports of mass rigging in the recent May 11 General Elections in Pakistan. Amateur footage of poll rigging have started circulating the internet but none could be verified. Are we moving towards a reform in the electoral politics in Pakistan?

The video above shows just one case of poll rigging in the southern Pakistani city of Hyderabad in the Sindh province – a constituency where the MQM has a stronghold. Whilst, the international Pakistani community is still shocked at the way Altaf Hussain incited violence against rallying youth in Karachi and television anchorpersons in general.

These youth thronged the streets of Karachi and Lahore to voice their concerns against massive amounts of vote rigging in various constituencies all over Pakistan. Altaf and the MQM aside, it seemed that the rallies and dharnas would just disappear in the background – after all, it was the Karachi elites that were part of the crowd. “Mummy Daddy”, “Burgers” or “Social Media Voters” are just some nicknames that anti-PTI parties use to define Khan’s followers – pointing to the fact that PTI only attracts the young elite (a minority in the nation).

NADRA's chairman was the deputy chairman at the government agency for biometrics until 2012.
“NADRA has the capability to compare thumb impressions against our database well under Khan’s deadline” – Muhammad Tariq Malik, Chairman NADRA

Khan’s ultimatum

On May 15, Imran Khan expressed his concerns about vote rigging and said that the Election Commission had failed its duty to the people, having fallen short of the people’s expectations. He gave the Election Commission an ultimatum of three days for thumb impressions on polling sheets in 4 constituencies to be checked against the NADRA’s (National Database & Registration Authority’s) database, failing which Khan said he would call for large-scale protests all over Pakistan against ECP’s incompetencies. Involving NADRA into the mix is one place I hold deep reservations.

Our reservations with NADRA

We assume that the NADRA database is a fool-proof repository of biometric data for every Pakistani citizen. NADRA’s chairman Muhammad Tariq Malik has confirmed that NADRA has the capability of comparing fingerprints with their database and it could be done within the three-day deadline that Khan put forth.

What if NADRA has no sufficient way of checking for fingerprints and they’re just keeping up a performance? Who’s there to account for the whole process of fingerprint checks? What if NADRA is biased? What if the politicians who know this fact are using the system to rig elections for yet another time?

Giving e-voting systems a chance

In the wake of the allegations of mass electoral rigging in Karachi, many electronic voting alternatives have been suggested by people on social media networks. Some asked for NADRA to come up with a system that uses fingerprint input units to validate votes on electronic voting machines. To be quite fair and honest, these systems can hardly find relevance or penetration in Pakistan.

After all, rigging is only “human”

I’ve seen people cheat everywhere. Incidents of vote rigging may occur in the United Kingdom (it has happened a fair bit in the United States as well); it’s not just limited to countries in the third world. Whatever system gets introduced anywhere, holds opportunities for vice and wicked people to rig them. Just by bringing in electronic voting systems doesn’t mean the system would clean itself up. In fact, it might just be even easier to rig machines.

Electoral reforms: What more can we hope for?
Pakistan Election Commission should take note: The act of rigging is essentially a “human” act. You can only eliminate rigging in its entirety if you’ve got robots overseeing the process. Forget Rangers; they are there to kill people instead.

Machines are simpler to hack, humans aren’t. I still suggest that paper voting holds potential in the country. Electronic voting is not just expensive, it takes time to set up and one-vote-per-person (OVPP) might still not be realised. Nevertheless, the past few days have seen some very pressing concerns surfacing the minds of the young voters of Pakistan and has also ushered in some very important questions that need answering fast.


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