The government of Pakistan last week stopped the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) from performing exit polls at February 18 general elections. Consequently, the institute, headed by US Senator John McCain, reversed a decision to send election observers for the polls. It was the only US group planning to send observers, although European teams still plan to be in place.
According to an IRI poll in September 2006, Musharraf had a 63 percent approval rating. But last October 11, IRI released a poll showing him at 21 percent. Thirteen days later, an official letter arrived, telling IRI that it was not possible to register the group in Pakistan “due to administrative reasons”.
Why the IRI was stopped from the exit polls? The reason looks very obvious. The government of President (Retired General) Parvez Musharraf does not want that the exit polls challenge the ‘doctored’ official election results.
To digress from the subject, General Musharraf was re-elected as President for five years in October last by a parliament whose term expired a month later. Just to refresh your memories, he was Chief of Army Staff when he sought the re-election and resigned from the army post only after the controversial re-election which saw many parliamentarians quitting and boycotting the election because constitutionally a serving general was not legible to stand for president.
Not surprisingly, popular perceptions about the integrity of the electoral process in Pakistan are dismal. Only 21% of the country's voting age population believes elections in the country are free and fair. This is one of the lowest in the World. In a Gallup International study of around 60 countries, Pakistan is ahead of only Philippines (19%) and Nigeria (9%).
According to Pakistan’s Citizens Group on Electoral Process (CGEP), past eight elections from 1970 to 2002 were marred by rigging in three phases: the pre-poll, polling day and post-poll.
Pre-Poll Rigging refers to a deliberate attempt to selectively tilt the rules of level playing field in favour of or against any contestant. It includes: Violation of constitutional requirements such as: 1. Neutrality of the caretaker government, 2. Independence of the Election Commission and related judiciary, 3. Neutrality of the election administration staff, 4. Violation of freedom of media to approach voters, and 5. Use of public resources to benefit some contestants and/or hurt others, including politically partisan use of development funds through various government agencies such as utility organisations (Electricity, Gas) and local bodies.
Polling Day Rigging refers to violation of the integrity (honesty) of the ballot box. It includes: Tampering with/stuffing ballot boxes; Impersonation and multiple voting: Prevention of voting by certain persons or groups through unlawful means, including coercion; Dishonest counting of votes, and Dishonest tabulation of results.