Who controlled RTS, how it collapsed and who benefitted?
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2018-08-10 15:22:30

Who controlled RTS, how it collapsed and who benefitted?

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has uploaded the Form-45 from all the constituencies across Pakistan on its website. ECP has uploaded 170,000 Form-45 on its website. After much criticism and allegations of rigging from 11 political parties, ECP was under pressure to prove the transparency in the electoral process.

On Election Day, ECP and NADRA faced a major embarrassment after the controversial collapse of newly created and apparently untested Result Transmission System (RTS) on Election night. The question remains, did the RTS really crash? Or was it a deliberate effort from ‘certain elements’ to sabotage the election process.

What is Form 45?
Form 45, previously Form 14, is known as the statement of the count, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan. It shows the number of valid votes for each contesting candidate and ballot papers excluded from the count.

What is RTS?
The presiding officer takes a screenshot of the form and uploads it onto the Results Transmission System, an Android application which enables election officers to send the results to the ECP in real time. Presiding officers are required to immediately send a screenshot of the form electronically to the ECP and returning officer before sending the original documents.

The RTS software was installed in the smartphones of all presiding officers so that they could transmit Form 45 via their phone to the ECP on Election Day. For polling officers without smartphones, the RTS software was downloaded in smartphones of other members of the election staff.

What is RMS?
The RMS is offline software installed in a computer at RO office that also has a trained data entry operator. The RO receives results from presiding officers on Form 45, mostly hard copies and the operator enters results in RMS. When results from all the polling stations have been received, RMS is instructed to generate Form 47 which is consolidated result of that constituency. This Form is then faxed to the ECP that uploads it on its website. All, RO’s successfully transferred the Form 47 to ECP.

Read more: Imran Khan threatens to protest against Election Commission of Pakistan

What is the Controversy over RTS?
The RTS software was installed in the smartphones of all Presiding Officers (PO) who were directed to transmit Form 45 (containing tabulated results of the polling station) from their individual polling station to the ECP headquarters using their respective mobile devices.

RTS feed was going to both ECP and RO and also PTV. Though ECP was receiving the Form-45, the compilation of Form-47 remained the responsibility of the RO’s. When RTS slowed down and collapsed, RO’s were unable to get the digital results and so compilation of Form-47 stopped until the manual results arrived from Polling stations.

The corrupt political elite can only mitigate the anti-graft efforts by making the election results controversial to prove to what’s left of their support base that some ‘hidden hands’ or ‘third forces’ are behind the accountability drive.

Even transfer of the Form-45 at night was performed under the strict supervision of the Army. It is the reason why ECP was able to upload the Form-45 on its website in under two weeks after the Election Day. Despite, the laudable efforts of ECP, it came under a barrage of criticism over negligence.

Much to its relief, major independent observers including Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), and European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) showed satisfaction with the electoral process on the Election Day. However, the Grand Opposition Alliance and international media coverage are looking to thwart its efforts to ensure the public that it [ECP] acted within the constitution and ensured the free and fair elections as stipulated under the law.

Read more: NA 120 Elections: Test Case for Election Commission of Pakistan?

Long before the formal announcement from ECP, political parties lambasted ECP for not providing the Form-45’s to polling agents in various constituencies cross Pakistan. According to the instruction manual, polling agents were only supposed to hand over the copies of Form-45 after sending the results through mobile phones. Since PO’s failed to deliver the results and did not hand over the Form-45 to all the polling agents, political parties started crying foul over the issue and the entire electoral process became controversial.

ECP refuses to give up, asks Cabinet Divison to probe NADRA’s failure to handle RTS. Following the allegations from certain NADRA officials, ECP has directed the Cabinet Division to investigate alleged RTS failure. ECP has said that “Cabinet Division should form a committee comprising technical experts from National Telecom and Information Technology Security Board (NTISB) and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).”

When RTS slowed down and collapsed, RO’s were unable to get the digital results and so compilation of Form-47 stopped until the manual results arrived from Polling stations.

However, NADRA has clearly stated that it has not released any official statement regarding the failure of ECP and it has no conflict with ECP on any issue.

Who Benefited from RTS failure: Connecting the Dots
The sudden and jaundiced failure of RTS did not affect the overall outcome of the Elections 2018 which according to local and international observers is one of the fairest elections in Pakistan’s history. By uploading almost 1,70,000 Form-45 on its website, ECP has wrapped up the electoral process in Pakistan. Now, the candidates can start the process of going to election tribunals for discrepancies that may have occurred in their respective constituencies.

It is interesting to note that after Elections 2013, ECP did not upload Form-14 (equivalent to Form-45 in elections 2018) on its website. In July 2018 elections, ECP uploaded Form-45 in less than three weeks. This is a major dent in the rhetoric of various political parties who have questioned the ‘fairness’ of Elections 2018. However, the opposition parties are using the failure of RTS to malign the entire electoral process in the country.

It is interesting to note that the same parties, who have hit the roads in protest over the failure of RTS, were the same parties who were pivotal in the creation of this system. According to sources, ECP was quite apprehensive over the use of RTS but the previous PML-N government and its allies on both sides of the isle pushed ECP to use this system for ‘quick delivery’ of results by RO’s to PO’s and ultimately to ECP.

It is interesting to note that in Elections 2013, ECP did not use any electronic system for the transmission of results, yet, by midnight on the Election Day, the winner had already delivered his victory speech. What persuaded PML-N to switch to an electronic system in 2018 for the transmission of results is still unknown. Technical experts close to ECP and NADRA opine that the failure in RTS was not due to the load on server or outside intervention such as hacking.

ECP has said that “Cabinet Division should form a committee comprising technical experts from National Telecom and Information Technology Security Board (NTISB) and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).”

It was someone inside NADRA who deliberately slowed and ultimately stopped the RTS from functioning. Such assertions, although yet to be proven, are dangerous and indicate that this might have been done to ‘favor’ someone. While the majority party is trying hard to form the new government in center and provinces, the defeated parties have joined hands to malign the electoral process using the failure of RTS which they at first instance, helped create and function, as a pretext. These political parties have refused to accept any clarification from ECP and have pledged to protest both inside and outside the parliament over the ‘rigged elections’.

Political pundits believe that the status quo parties are ‘fearful’ of the much-promised accountability drive by the PTI government. The corrupt political elite can only mitigate the anti-graft efforts by making the election results controversial to prove to what’s left of their support base that some ‘hidden hands’ or ‘third forces’ are behind the accountability drive.

The failure of RTS paved way for them to launch such a campaign. Now the question is, did the status quo parties knew that they might face defeat in elections and hence they developed RTS to ‘affect’ the electoral process if the results don’t go in their favor? The new government, soon after taking office must form a commission to probe the failure of RTS and give exemplary punishment to those who are responsible for its deliberate failure.

Tags:   NADRA ، Election 2018 ، RTS ،
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