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On the outcome of 2024 general elections


‘We wuz robbed!’ Grammatically incorrect, perhaps, but a forceful outburst nevertheless, uttered first in the 1930s by Joe Jacobs, the manager of the boxer Max Schmeling after his rigged defeat in a heavy-weight boxing match.

It has been used ever since in a variety of situations - from sports to elections - when a clear defeat has been changed into a murky victory. On 8/9 February, it was repeated across Pakistan in different dialects following the 2024 general elections. Its final results have yet to receive an unequivocal acceptance by the competing parties.  

Their complaints – some registered, others to be registered, a few tossed in the lap of the judiciary – rise from the discrepancy between the ECP’s Form 45 and Form 47. These forms are more than a bureaucratic formality. They are the foundations upon which the credibility of the balloting stands.

Specifically, Form 45 – the ‘Result of Count’ form – is the first record of votes polled at a polling station. It contains inter alia ‘the total number of registered voters, total number of votes cast, and a breakdown of the votes earned by each candidate’.

After votes have been counted, Form 45 is then submitted to the Returning Officer of each constituency. The Returning Officer tallies all the Form 45s to determine the final results and compiles a Form 47. ‘Form 47 documents the unconfirmed results in a constituency. This includes the number of votes polled in the constituency, a candidate-wise breakdown of votes, and the number of votes cancelled/rejected’.  Then, Forms 48 and 49 publish the full and final vote tallies. These become the official declarations of the election results.

The lowest tier in the pyramid carries the heaviest burden. It is expected to be the most dependable. Ideally, a EVM system minimizes the possibility of fraudulent intervention between the tiers. In a manual system, however, ballot papers can be manipulated by hands that leave no thumbprints.

Before the elections, many were skeptical about the impartiality of the ECP. After the elections, too many voters harbor suspicions about its conduct. To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s memorable phrase about the RAF during WW II, never in the history of Pakistan’s electoral conflict have so many votes been manipulated by so few. No wonder 128 million voters feel affronted. They wuz robbed.

At Rs. 49 billion, this has been the costliest and most sterile election in our history. The 128 million voters (22 million of them new entrants) would have preferred to see the government spend that money on their education. [The allocation for Education in the 2023-4 Budget was Rs. 97 billion.] Instead, they have been taught the wrong lesson: that electoral fraud was not invented in Pakistan; it was simply perfected here.  

Now that the spoils of war are arrayed before the major political parties, they seem reluctant to claim their prizes. The presidency, the prime ministership and other constitutional posts have been tossed between the PML-N and the PPP as if they were tinsel crowns. Our leaders are discovering the truth in Frederick the Great’s remark that ‘a crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in’.

A deluge of problems awaits whoever dares assume the prime ministership. Daunted by the prospect, a disappointed Nawaz Sharif who dreamed of a fourth term as PM has shied away before the final hurdle. He has decided to invest his sunset years in grooming his daughter Mayram for the gentler steeplechase of Punjab’s CM-ship.  

Nawaz has yielded the PM-ship to his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif. To understand why Shehbaz Sharif would agree to don the spiky crown, remember the assurance he gave to IMF’s Managing Director Mme. Kristalina Georgieva in July 2023. Then, expressing his ‘profound gratitude’ for her ‘support and assistance in materialising the Stand-by Agreement (SBA) for $3 bn., he assured her: ‘After the elections, if the people of Pakistan re-elect his government, he is committed to turning over the economy with the help of IMF and development partners’. She conveyed to the IMF Board that she had personally met the prime minister and ‘seen his seriousness to deliver’.

The IMF and friendly lenders (particularly China over CPEC) now expect Shehbaz Sharif to stand up and deliver.   

How long will the next coalition government last? Longer than any of its predecessors?  Or will it be constantly looking over its shoulder, afraid of an establishment itching to remove it?

One recalls that in 1981, General Ziaul Haq selected a little-known ironmonger Nawaz Sharif as the Finance Minister Punjab. When he began his political career forty years ago, the top uppermost hierarchy in the present Establishment were still either cadets or probationers then.

No wonder ageing Caesars fear the dagger of Brutus the Younger.  



[DAWN, 22 Feb. 2024]


25 February 2024
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