Tough Bargain

The possible disruption in the Election Management System (EMS) and the delay in the announcement of results due to the suspension of cellular services across the country has stirred up a controversy. The stance of the caretaker Interior and Information Ministers tells that the decision weighed the security of citizens as the top priority. However, the fact that the Election Commission was not informed about the suspension beforehand represents a serious lack of communication and insufficient inter-departmental cooperation.

The caretaker government’s stressful argument that the only ratio­nale behind the decision was people’s security helps to settle and sat­isfy the criticisms that this was a deliberate attempt to malign the electoral process. However, the act of balancing between people’s safety and the integrity of the electoral process represents a chal­lenging trade-off, that was made in the former’s favour nevertheless. Now when people are questioning the decision, they are convenient­ly downplaying the catastrophe that might have occurred had there been a security lapse or an attack, God forbid.

The obvious reason why the caretaker government’s undeclared suspension of mobile services is coming under attack is the delay in the announcement of results by the ECP. Even after 24 hours, the ECP could not declare complete and official poll results. The technical de­lay in EMS has made people, analysts, observers, and experts equal­ly suspicious about the results and fairness in the counting of bal­lots. The delicate balance between security concerns and the need for transparent electoral processes could not be achieved because the government did not timely inform the ECP of the decision.

While the caretaker government is defending its decision, ques­tions persist about the impact on voters’ mobility and the timely an­nouncement of results. The bigger question still remains, could elec­tion fairness be compromised to safeguard citizens and polling staff? Though the security of citizens and electoral fairness are mutually ex­clusive, as asserted by the caretaker Interior Minister Gohar Ijaz, the polarised political environment has created a room where anyone un­happy with the results can blame the ECP for playing with numbers. For better sense to prevail, it is important that all candidates involved as well as their supporters and the public accept the results and the ECP should take responsibility for whatever lacking in the EMS.

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