Islamabad, Pakistan: After delaying General Elections 2024 results for over 72 hours, the office of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is mum and hiding from the media while media persons are demanding that the ECP should interact with media to clear the cobwebs of doubts created by social media echo chambers of lies.
An analysis based upon the interaction with those who were involved in the electoral process i.e. officials, politicians, and the public, revealed that the election process started smoothly with Police, Rangers, and Army in 1st, the 2nd and third tiers of security. As polling started the polling agents of respective parties started relaying results to the media as well as their own social media networks. PTI obviously led this campaign by being more reliant on and savvy in social media advocacy.
The political parties started sending results where it suited them and concealed them from the media where it did not suit them. Media in its ratings obsession and race to the swift started displaying results and unfortunately few immature and politically partisan anchors sitting on 24-hour Election transmission cells started making predictions about the results based on 1 to 3% of the results. This raised expectations of a party whose social media had already declared victory and the narrative was lapped up as an article of faith by its followers. The reality was that the Election Cell had not even started compiling the ballot box results in Returning Officer (RO) offices till 4 a.m. when surprisingly ECP started giving instructions to Returning Officers (from the District administration cadre) to announce results within 30 minutes (as reported on PTV) News.
The reality is that ECP staff at places was woefully incompetent and insufficiently trained in even compiling results. In some cases, ROs were moving back and forth to their residences and taking the process so candidly that some of them were telling Polling officers to just put the bags of the ballots in ROs officers without completing Standing Operating Procedures (SoPs) and they were hardly available in their offices.
The results in such conditions would have taken time to get consolidated and confirmed on Form 47s.
The role of the media was highly negative in projecting despondency and giving ballast to the rumors through their own speculative analysis on 24-hour shows. In reality, the Army and Rangers had ensured complete security of the ballot boxes during transportation and then while in custody of ROs. There were places where the charged crowds of different parties tried to break into RO offices. Army and Rangers resultantly stood out to foil these attempts and for that full marks to Army and Rangers. Police again proved incompetent and ineffective and had it not been for the Army there would have been complete mayhem. There were incidents where the Army went in to disentangle the clashing activists of political parties and while doing so videos were made by political activists and shared on social media spreading disinformation to mislead the people. Such videos and fantastic claims of changing of results in Form 47 reinforced the perception of rigging amongst the charged followers of PTI.
- The ECP was not optimally prepared for the massive electoral exercise especially the polling Station staff.
- The live transmission of results creates false perceptions and enables biased analysts to mislead public opinion.
- The actual speed of counting, ballot box transportation to ROs, counting by ROs and confirmation of results should be realistically measured instead of announcing results in a rush.
- The perception of rigging created on the basis of false claims of victory by political agents of respective parties needs to be corrected.
- The social media-generated rigging narrative needs to be debunked with facts by ECP during media interactions.
- ECP has a complete Media Cell having several officials. However, neither the ECP Media Cell nor the Interim Government Media team looked proactive in responding to queries of journalists for 72 hours delay in announcing the General Election 2024 results and this indifferent behavior helped rumormongers to further create ambiguities and political parties use the situation in their favor for questioning the credibility of the election process.
In the future below steps are imperative to make the process smooth and transparent:
- The live transmission of results during electoral exercise needs to be reviewed.
- ECP needs to interact with the media to clear the cobwebs of doubts created by social media echo chambers of lies.