The report of the General Elections 2013 Inquiry Commission (GEIC), erroneously being called Judicial Commission by many, was finally out last week. As expected, it created ripples across the political canvass in Pakistan. Amidst all this dust, we are fast losing the sight of the great opportunity this report offers.

Whatever the merits and demerits of the sit-in, howsoever bizarre the diatribe of the sit-in leaders, whatsoever the relevance (or irrelevance) of the demands by sit-in leaders was with the substantive electoral reforms, one thing is but certain. GEIC Report presents – and pretty comprehensively so – first ever evaluation of the electoral process and of the ECP as the main institution to ensure the organization and the conduct of free and fair elections.

The report has detailed the shortcomings and weaknesses of the ECP quite lucidly, which merit attention from not only the Parliament (Parliamentary Committee on Election Reforms) but also from the leadership senior management of the ECP.

The first point that the Report mentions is the lack of planning on the part of the ECP despite the fact that it was given ample time before the General Elections 2013 (GE-2013) for failsafe planning. The report informs that a two-day planning meeting was held by the ECP in September 2012 for preparations of GE-2013. A wide-ranging Action Plan was prepared but unfortunately no follow-up of any progress could be done. There were directions by the ECP to the Secretary ECP for the implementation by the Provincial Election Commissions (PECs), but none of the PECs was able to report back the progress.

The Report then gives many examples where planning was needed but there was found none during the proceedings of GEIC. For example, the Formula for determining excess ballots was not adequately communicated to the Returning Officers (ROs), particularly in the Punjab. The method of calculating the number of excess ballots was not uniform in all provinces.

In Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PECs decided on the number of ballots to be printed against no discernible formula despite the fact that they had already received a copy of the Action Plan in which the formula was clearly set out. In the Punjab the determination was left to the ROs who seem to have received very little, if any, guidance on this point and as such the number of excess ballots requested per constituency varied greatly.

Another important finding is about the printing of the ballot, binding and numbering it. It appears that no thinking was put on the capacity of printing presses to print such a huge number of ballot papers, before deciding to rely on only four Presses. The shocking revelation was about the method of binding and numbering the ballot paper. It was manual. The ECP has no access to an automated system of numbering the ballot. Meaning thereby, an enormous manpower (let’s start using person-power here) was required to do it ballot by ballot. Columnist Cyril Almeida in his column last Sunday has already elaborated on the consequent mess, quite cogently.

The ECP had developed the ink, which was to be followed by the purchase of necessary equipment to ensure an accurate forensic analysis of disputed votes. This could not happen and consequently, it was not useful in positively identifying the person who actually cast each individual vote. Moreover, despite having access to resources for it, the report laments ECP’s failure to establish and use an effective Results Management System (RMS) on election day led to suspicions of rigging especially as the RMS was meant to deal with the important Form XIV (the Statement of Count).

Another shocking revelation that comes out in the Report is that even after eleven years since 2001, after managing two GEs (2002 and 2008), ECP does not have its own storage space. One wonders how was ECP planning to implement Section 44 of Representation of People Act (RoPA) that requires of ECP to retain the polling bags under its custody. Instead, ECP relied on the treasuries to keep the bags, which were found by the legal Assistant of the GEIC in ‘a very inadequate manner’.

The GEIC was told that ECP gave comprehensive training to ROs, District Returning Officers (DROs) and Assistant Returning Officers (AROs) as well as to around 650,000 polling staff, in approximately 19,000 training sessions throughout Pakistan. But the Commission found this training ‘woefully inadequate’ considering the number of ROs, DROs, AROs, Presiding Officers (POs), Assistant Presiding Officers (APOs) and other polling staff who had to be on duty during the Election Day in thousands of polling stations across the country.

The Commission specifically notes that one RO (for NA 125) who attended a training session, in which the PEC of Punjab was also present, the issue of how to determine the number of ballots was not discussed in that particular session. GEIC expresses its doubts on whether the POs had the necessary training or ability to ensure that important legal aspects of RoPA were complied with especially during the hectic and stressful situation on polling day.

It was because of this sheer lack of training that even the ROs (who had to be senior judicial officers) did not comply with mandatory provisions of RoPA, the Report says. These provisions included completion of Form XIV (Statement of Count) and Form XV (Account of Ballot) and keeping them in sealed bags before submitting to the ECP. According to the GEIC’s findings, it did not happen in many cases. In 35% constituencies, according to the Report, Form XV was not placed in the sealed bags.

Likewise, the Commission found that there was a serious lack of coordination between ECP, PECs and the activities on ground on the day of the GE. In the case of the revised schedule for printing ballots, which was issued on 20th, 21st and 26th April 2013, a lack of coordination was seen even between two important offices of the ECP, the DG Budget and the DG Elections.

The Report also made another important observation about the chain of command and organizational structure between PEC, REC & DEC and DRO, RO & PO. Calling it largely ineffective, the Commission discovered that very little information was filtered back to the ECP. Here a strong note must be made of the fact that ECP was the instructing body and had ultimate responsibility for the organization and conduct of the elections while the others were only the implementers of those instructions.

All in all, the GEIC Report makes a very instructive analysis and should be read cover-to-cover by not only the Parliamentary Committee but also by the ECP. The Report might not have vindicated the state on the accusation of ‘organised rigging’, it has made ECP emerge as a weak and failing institution. The question that we should be asking is, why is the ECP not being made accountable for not being able to implementing even its own Five Year Strategic Plan?

\