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Pakistan election commission's new app faces hurdles as authorities grapple with result delays

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NewsDrum Desk
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Feb 8 elections in Pakistan Election Commission of Pakistan General Elections

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Islamabad: Pakistan's election commission's much-touted new app which was supposed to help officials to quickly tabulate and transmit election results faced significant challenges on Friday as the authorities were moving at a snail's pace to announce the result of the election amid allegations of rigging.

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The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) prepared the Election Management System (EMS) app for transmission of results from each polling station to a centralised system where tabulation of all results would be completed by the Returning Offices, who are in charge of preparing and releasing the result of each constituency.

However, the top electoral body's claim that it would ensure the timely announcement of results without depending on the internet fell flat on its face when the absence of connectivity brought forth a set of unexpected yet familiar challenges, mai­nly for Presiding Officers at a number of polling stations on Thursday evening, who found themselves unable to transmit the final results of their respective stations using the much-touted and homegrown system, the Dawn Newspaper reported.

As a result, there has been an unusual delay in declaring the election results to the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies.

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During the previous elections in 2018, the ECP’s Result Transmission System (RTS) was clogged when thousands of polling stations began sending results from all parts of the country, causing delays in the announcement of results of some constituencies, which was exploited by the losing parties as an alleged conscious effort to rig the results.

On Thursday evening, the ECP back-tracked from its claim of announcing the poll results on time when one of its official said that the presiding officers would now “physically” send the results of their polling stations to the offices of their respective returning officers, where they would be transmitted via the system “once internet service is restored”, the report said.

The CEC was expected to address a press conference, but instead, Special Secretary Zafar Iqbal appeared on state-run PTV just before 3 am on Friday to announce the first official results from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly.

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In the brief announcement, he squarely blamed the suspension of internet and mobile phone services for the delay in the compilation and announcement of results.

The ECP had claimed that the countrywide test run of EMS had been a “success”.

However, two election officials in Sindh province had pointed out faults in the EMS after the second test run earlier this month.

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Abdul Qadir Mashori, the Qambar assistant commissioner (AC) and Returning Officer (RO) for National Assembly seat NA-197 (Qambar-Shahdadkot-II); and Usman Khaskheli, the Bakrani AC and RO for PS-12 (Larkana-III) seat of Sindh Assembly, had written to their superiors, conveying almost identical issues regarding the EMS.

In his letter to the Qambar-Shahdadkot district returning officer on February 3, Mashori has stated that the data regarding duties assigned to polling officials were uploaded to the EMS, which was later “found missing”. “This weakness of [the] system has created many issues and also raises [a] question mark on the reliability and validity of the software.” The official expressed apprehension that either the system was an “utter failure” or was being “controlled” by someone.

Khaskheli also wrote a similar letter addressed to the Larkana district returning officer (DRO).

ECP Secretary Syed Asif Hussain had ruled out any possibility of manipulation while addressing a press conference last week. He said that the EMS would work even if the internet failed, as returning officers would still be able to compile all results offline. He said more than 60 ROs in remote areas had also been provided with satellite connectivity to keep them connected.

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