Pakistan polls may have been ‘fairest ever’ despite fixing claims

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Despite some Pakistani voters and politicians claiming last Saturday’s elections were rigged, technology may have helped in making the polls the fairest ever.

Pakistan's database authority oversaw an increase in the registration of women from 50 percent during the last polls to 86 percent by adding all adults with an ID card to the voter roll.

The agency culled the dead from the electoral roll, and clamped down on ID card fraud that resulted in some people voting dozens of times in the last election.

It put in place measures that allowed polling stations to access would-be voters' photographs and even check thumb impressions against the national database in cases of suspected fraud.

The agency also allowed voters to SMS their ID card number to instantly find which polling station they should use -- a serviced accessed 55 million times.

"Technology has strengthened democracy in Pakistan, enhanced turnout, eroded corruption and enhanced transparency," Tariq Malik, chairman of the National Database Registration Authority, told AFP news agency.

But Malik warned that technology can only do so much and poll officials remained susceptible to corruption.

On Sunday, voters reeling from the outcome revealed they were told to keep there “mouth shut” when they alleged vote rigging.

On Saturday night, the official results carried Pakistan Muslim League’s Nawaz Sharif to power, building up enough momentum to avoid having to form a coalition with his main rivals, former cricketer Imran Khan's Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

Rida Naqvi, a polling agent in Lahore on Saturday who was responsible for keeping tabs on voters and the ballot box, was angered by “extreme disorder,” she witnessed while at work.

“I saw votes being put into the ballot boxes without having signatures on them,” she told Al Arabiya on Sunday.

“When I went to complain, I was told to keep my mouth shut [by security officers] because this was my first time doing this duty and they had been here for years.

“I wanted to tell them ‘no doubt you have been here for years, which is exactly why we never had fair elections!’”

Naqvi said she has since attempted to complain to the media, European observers monitoring the polls and presiding Pakistani officers.

“But they all just nodded and kept quiet,” she said.
Murmurings on Saturday cast early doubts on the validity of the vote when the leader of the governing Pakistan People's Party, Taj Haider, alleged rigging in some constituencies, among them in Sindh province and its capital, Karachi.

Meanwhile, leaders of one of Pakistan's largest and most liberal parties, the Sindh-based Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), told reporters that they would boycott the elections over allegations of rigging, according to CNN.

The Sunni Ittehad Council and Jamaat e Islami parties also announced a boycott, Pakistan’s Geo TV reported on election day.

At one point during the voting, Pakistan's election commission ordered a re-vote in more than 30 polling stations in a Karachi constituency over allegations of ballot stuffing, a spokesman said.

It was a Karachi constituency controlled by MQM, the group which later announced its boycott. Imran Khan, meanwhile, also accused the MQM of ballot stuffing in Karachi, according to AFP. But the movement was quick to deny the accusations.

In reference to allegations of vote-rigging made by the members of his party, Khan said in televised remarks on Sunday: "God willing, we will issue a white paper."

One Karachi voter pointed out that city quickly became the focus for allegations of fraud.

“The elections held in Pakistan were total scam; rigging was the usual way of work for the polling stations in the whole of Sindh and Punjab, especially Karachi,” Shujaat Haider told Al Arabiya.

“Polling stations were hijacked by ‘unidentified’ men and where they weren't, the presiding officers did their part,” Haider added, in reference to poll officials taking part in the alleged corruption.

The Karachi resident said that in one of the city’s polling station, NA 250, a presiding officer did not turn up. The officer was supposed to preside over two stations.

“When we [Haider and other residents] asked why there was no officer, we were told he had gotten ‘upset’ over something and will not be coming and to stop asking questions. So they sent 1400 registered voters home.”

After complaints that polling stations opened late, or hadn’t been operating at all, voting was extended by three hours in seven Karachi constituencies

Haider said he was angered by the disorder and rigging attempts, but the large voter turnout still allowed him and other Pakistanis to feel the change.

“Even though I did not support the party that has won the elections, we must acknowledge the fact that the change has come."

“Scores of people lined up for hours and hours to practice their democratic right and play their part in making change happen,” Haider added.

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