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Failed mutation: Jeep that couldn’t make it to the finish

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The symbol of Jeep came into limelight when Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, former interior minister and key member of Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), left his party and got this symbol as an independent candidate to contest General Elections 2018 in Pakistan. Fuel was added to fire when a large number of candidates who were once part of major political parties parted ways with their respective parties and got this symbol as independent candidates from Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Nawaz Sharif blamed ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) for harassing his party candidates, forcing them to return party tickets and becoming a part of this Jeep group.

It seemed like this symbol would be a new force in these elections. The number of candidates who thought of reaching the finishing line i.e. winning their seats while riding the jeep was tremendous. For 272 seats of national assembly there were 49.6 percent such constituencies where candidates of this symbol were contesting while for provincial assemblies there were 50.8 percent in Sindh, 56.9 percent in Balochistan, 67.3 percent in Punjab and 49.5 percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Before the Election Day when I talked to some of these candidates I could clearly divide them into three categories: 1) those who got this symbol by chance and were bothered by the questions asked by voters due to the conspiracy theories revolving around it. 2) those who were covering candidates for their parties and had nothing to do with this symbol or their election campaign and were supporting their party candidates and 3) those who were assured by their ‘friends’ that if they succeed to secure 2.5 to 3K votes this Jeep would help them reaching the finish line. One such candidate was Waqar Ali who was contesting from PS 128 Karachi Central. He said, “Get 3000 votes and jeep would help you in reaching the finish line. My friends have told me this. I am still confused and would take any decision after consulting my other friends.” When I asked about who he really referred to as “friends”, he opted to keep their identity secret and simply said, “You media guys know very well and we know it too so better safe than sorry.”

No candidate from national assembly won on this symbol, even Chauhdhry Nisar lost on both seats and only secured one seat in Punjab assembly. In provincial assemblies, there was none from Sindh, two from Balochistan, one from KP and two from Punjab, including Nisar, who succeeded in securing their seats.

Now if we look at the election results, it is clear that most of these candidates couldn’t win. Ali was able to secure only 38 votes. No candidate from national assembly won on this symbol, even Chauhdhry Nisar lost on both seats and only secured one seat in Punjab assembly. In provincial assemblies, there was none from Sindh, two from Balochistan, one from KP and two from Punjab, including Nisar, who succeeded in securing their seats. This made me think about what exactly happened and why this hype was created? Was it a tactic used to divert the attention from something happening behind the scenes?

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Senior Journalist and TV show host Matiullah Jan argues that this was a complete military establishment plan to target few constituencies and vote bank of a particular party i.e. PML-N. He said, “First of all you have to look at the margin of votes between winning and losing candidates in these constituencies and votes of “Jeep” candidates and then analyze whether these votes impacted this margin or not. It is possible that jeep was promoted and this hype was created to divert the attention from actual rigging going on somewhere else. They have set their ground of innocence by playing this card that “Jeep” candidates couldn’t win but reality is different. This is the same story as that of 35 punctures. They have not done this across Pakistan but achieved their target in selected constituencies. This is exactly like creating decoys in the field and then zooming in on targets. Just have a look at how Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan has impacted the vote bank of just one political party in at least 12 to 13 constituencies, have a look at FAFEN’s (Free and Fair Election Network) report regarding rejected votes in these elections and you’d be surprised how they have crossed the vote margin of winning in certain constituencies.”

Questioning the credibility of these elections he further said, “The problem actually started when ECP permitted army persons inside polling stations. There was no logic behind this. If they kept the security tight outside the polling stations then obviously no terrorist was expected to come out of the ballot boxes. Further, they announced on the night of the Election Day that their RTS (Result Transmission System) had collapsed, the application through which Form-45 could reach ECP immediately, [and] they got a reason to delay results and rigging happened in targeted constituencies. The establishment has systematically rigged these elections by using all these tactics.”

But political analyst, and Editor of Daily Times, Raza Ahmad Rumi suggests that electorates were wise enough to elect the candidate of their choice and conspiracies regarding rigging need proofs. He said, “The symbol of jeep emerged as a large group of independents in general election but there was too much hype generated by media, which was speculative in nature, and the jeep symbol winning many seats only turned out to be a conspiracy theory. Secondly, the electorate was very clear in making its choices and the vast majority opted for the political parties they liked while these elections revolved around electables. The results show that the party brand and ideology still matters for the voters.” He further added, “There were many irregularities noted in the elections, but allegations of widespread rigging require solid evidence which is still missing. The jeep candidates thought that they could win on their own and then form a powerful group in the parliament to bargain for ministries and forming the government but the message of electorates appears to be otherwise.”

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Anwar Ali Arqam, a journalist currently affiliated with Newsline magazine, has a keen eye on Pakistani politics and argues that it was already decided which party would win these elections. He said,” In pre-poll rigging, a perception is built and hype is created to attract those candidates who have no ideology and are always with the party which is supposed to win. When Ch Nisar left his party it was said that around 40 members of his party would also join him. Media also created hype when he was given the symbol of jeep and then this hype led to a number of candidates opting for this symbol. Even the voters cast their votes for those whom they thought would win. I asked a layman about his vote and he said that he voted for PTI because in horse race gamble one always opts for the horse that is supposed to win. Same happened with jeep. It turned out to be a false alarm in pre poll rigging because they had BAP (Balochistan Awami Party) in Balochistan, they already had a setting in Sindh and it was decided already that which party would win and that is what exactly happened.”

What we can deduce from the comments above is that there was a hype created before elections regarding jeep but this symbol could not succeed in becoming a game changer. There were few constituencies where candidates of this symbol were able to secure second or third position but majority of them couldn’t even get one thousand votes. These elections were historic because they brought about the third consecutive democratic transition but concerns regarding credibility of these elections need to be addressed.

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