ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s election regulator on Monday rejected allegations of rigging, primarily by former prime minister Imran Khan’s party, in Feb. 8 national elections, attributing delays in poll results to a nationwide suspension of mobile phone networks and other logistical issues.
Pakistan’s national election on February 8 was marred by accusations of vote-rigging, a nationwide shutdown of mobile phone networks, and over 50 incidents of violence resulting in the deaths of at least 16 people across the South Asian nation.
While the vote failed to present a clear winner, independent candidates, most aligned with Khan, secured the highest number of parliamentary seats at 101, according to official results.
However, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and several other parties protested results in dozens of constituencies for a second consecutive day on Monday.
“The Election Commission completely rejects the allegations of rigging,” the election regulator said in a statement. “There is no denying the occasional incidents [of irregularities] for which there are relevant forums for redressal and the Election Commission is receiving such complaints even during office hours and even after office hours.”
The Election Management System (EMS) installed in offices of returning officers (ROs) was not dependent on connectivity and worked satisfactorily after the polling ended last Thursday, according to the ECP.
“However, the EMS mobile app installed on the presiding officers’ phones required cellular connectivity to send Form 45 [given to candidates by election officials detailing their number of votes] electronically, resulting in an inability to transmit data,” it said, adding that along with this, the overall process of routine coordination and administrative transport was adversely affected by the mobile signal outage that led to further delays.
The Pakistani government shut down mobile phone services and temporarily closed the country’s borders with Iran and Afghanistan minutes before the polls opened on Feb. 8.
The government said the measures were taken as the run-up to elections was marred by attacks on rallies, election offices and candidates, and 28 people were killed in a number of attacks in the Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces just a day before the election.
Despite stringent security measures in place on the election day, at least 16 people were killed in 56 incidents of violence, with the interior minister later justifying the closure of mobile phone networks to ensure safety of millions of voters.
In its statement on Monday, the ECP noted that the first result of the 2018 general election was received at 4 in the morning of the next day, whereas in 2024, the first result was received at 2am.
“Similarly, in 2018, the compilation of results was completed in about 3 days, whereas this time, except for a few constituencies, it took one and a half days,” it read.
The election regulator said a peaceful and orderly conduct of the election, safety of polling staff, and secure transportation of polling materials were paramount priorities.
“It was deemed inappropriate to compromise human lives or the accuracy of results for the sake of expediting the outcome,” it said.
“Upon the security agencies’ recommendation, the federal government blocked mobile phone services to maintain peace and security at polling stations. Additionally, polling staff and materials were transported under secure escorts.”
The regulator said the incidents of violence, particularly the loss of lives of security personnel and civilians near polling stations, in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa posed significant challenges to the election process, and that helicopters were utilized to transport polling staff and materials in some parts of Balochistan.
“However, challenges such as the absence of mobile networks, remote polling station locations, nighttime travel, extreme weather conditions, and road blockages due to sit-ins by losing candidates’ supporters hindered in-time traveling, which also affected the compilation of results,” it added.
The ECP noted that the areas with delayed results showed a mixed trend and “no party benefited or suffered” there in any way.