The election campaign of all candidates for the Feb. 8 general elections must conclude at midnight tonight (Tuesday), prompting aspirants to ramp up their canvassing activities to avoid any penalties in the 24 hours leading up to the polls.
Under Section 182 of the Elections Act, 2017, “no person shall convene, hold or attend any public meeting, or promote or join in any procession, within the area of a constituency or, in the case of the Senate election, a province, during a period of 48 hours ending at midnight following the conclusion of the poll for any election in that constituency or Province.” According to officials of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), anyone found violating the law could face imprisonment of up to two years.
Additionally, the ECP issued a statement confirming it had completed delivery of 260 million ballot papers to district returning officers for the electoral exercise on Feb. 8. Over the next 48 hours, it said, the ballot papers would be delivered to the respective returning officers, who would prepare packets for delivery to the presiding officers concerned a day before polling.
Rejecting social media rumors of advance compilation of results of postal ballots mailed by jail inmates as baseless and misleading, it said returning officers would open and count postal ballots in their respective constituencies in front of the candidates and their polling agents during the consolidation process. These ballot papers, it stressed, would be included in the final results.
Also on Monday, the ECP rejected any possibility of the Election Management System (EMS) being “hacked,” amidst rumors on the system’s vulnerabilities following a returning officer submitting to the electoral body reservations that “someone else” might be controlling it. In a press conference, ECP Secretary Syed Asif Hussain reiterated that the EMS was designed to work even if internet services failed, stressing returning officers would still be able to compile all results offline. Additionally, he clarified, over 60 ROs in remote areas were provided satellite phones to ensure connectivity.
ECP Project Management Unit Project Director Col. Saad, similarly, maintained the EMS had state-of-the-art security features and ran on a secure private network that was accessible only to specific individuals on a pre-approved whitelist. Referring to the concerns expressed by the RO, he said he had personally spoken with and resolved their concerns.
To a question, Saad refused to provide a timeline for compilation of final results, but hoped the process would not exceed 10 a.m. on Feb. 9.
In the same press conference, ECP Director General (I.T.) Khizar Aziz noted the EMS had been used in 40 elections already, adding the system was upgraded per requirements. He also stressed that authorities had developed various redundancies to counter any potential failures and emergency situations.
Detailing the process for compilation of results, Aziz said presiding officers in each polling station would send results to their respective returning officers through the EMS. “If there is any issue in the delivery of results, the presiding officer will personally convey them to the returning officer,” he said, adding the EMS would “immediately” detect any changes to the results.