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RTS system failure: Who is responsible?

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There has been a huge furor in the media in the country over the failure of the Engineering Council RTS or the Result Transmission System on election day. The results of the elections have been marred by continuous allegations of rigging, manipulation, and fraud.  Opposition parties seem to be united in rejecting the results of the elections. There have been several calls for an inquiry into who is responsible for the crash of the RTS during a critical time on Election Day.

The system was meant to allow speedy transmission of results from polling stations to returning officers and ultimately to ECP headquarters. An Android app was developed for all presiding officers who have digitally transmitted form 45’s to ECP headquarters via an intermediate server. The system had been pilot-tested in January of this year and a deal was signed with the Election Commission of Pakistan in February to develop an electronic data transmission system for the upcoming general elections in 2018.

Most international observers to the general elections 2018 in Pakistan have said that the polling had been “transparent and fair”. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the entire saga of the failure of the Result Transmission System be investigated and the culprits behind the crash, if any, need to be brought to trial.

On the day of elections, the entire nation was glued to their TV screens as the results came flooding in. Then suddenly, about 15 minutes before midnight on the 25th of July, the system crashed. The Secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan held a press conference detailing how there had been a technical failure due to which there would be inordinate delays before the declaration of the official results of the general elections. It took days before we came to know the complete results.

As soon as the technical failure was announced, leaders of political parties who had been losing the elections up till that point told the media they reject the results of the elections because they saw this technical failure as further evidence of rigging in the elections. Shahbaz Sharif, leader of the PML-N, was among the first to reject the election results, even before they had been officially announced by the ECP.

Read more: PTI demands Senate probe into RTS failure on Election Night

Soon afterward, leaders of opposition parties began calling for a probe into election rigging and the failure of the RTS system. Former Chairman of the Senate Raza Rabbani demanded that the Committee of the Whole of Senate lead an inquiry into the matter. Shahbaz Sharif called for a parliamentary commission to head the inquiry. There had been some issue with using RTS in the 2013 general elections as well. “These allegations are all due to delay in election results.

Failure of RTS has given a bad name to ECP. Though it is a technical issue, it is also an administrative failure of ECP. There was no logic of using RTS after its failure in 2013”, said former Secretary ECP Kanwar Dilshad. Virtually all opposition parties have demanded that the current ECP Secretary should resign following the controversy over the RTS system failure.

Read more: Failure of RTS on Election Day under investigation

The ECP, for its part, has written a letter to the Cabinet Division Secretary to constitute an inquiry committee consisting of technical experts from the National Telecommunication and Information Technology Security Board (NTISB) and the Pakistan Telecommuni¬cation Authority (PTA) to probe into the RTS episode. Several ECP officials have appeared on news channels and have vehemently denied all allegations of election rigging. No specifics or proof has been provided by people making all these allegations, one ECP official said.

These are the facts of this case, until now. But the central question in this story remains unanswered. Who was responsible for the technical failure on the night of the elections? One possibility is that no one, in particular, was responsible. It was simply a technical malfunction that should have been anticipated. In other words, there was no malicious intent behind the episode. Of course, the other possibility is that someone may have done some meddling with the system.

The Federal Investigation Agency, intelligence bodies, the criminal justice system all need to be on the same page to make sure such an occurrence does not repeat. The committee formed to investigate the matter must comprise of IT experts who are able to do the required forensic analysis of NADRA’s systems.

Is it possible that some parties may not have liked the way the results of the elections were coming out and would attempt to sabotage the election process should they get the chance? Such an eventuality is not entirely unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. Political parties have tried to manipulate elections before in Pakistan.

What makes the RTS failure even more suspect is the fact that a story was published in one the leading English newspapers of the country quoting some unnamed NADRA officials who blamed the ECP for the entire episode. According to the story, NADRA officials maintain that the RTS was working fine. Around 11:47 pm, the ECP suddenly ordered all presiding officers to stop using the RTS system because it was slowing down. It was the RMS system i.e. the Result Management System run by the ECP which had crashed, the story goes.

Read more: Cabinet Division give the task to investigate RTS’ alleged failure

It is said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. How is it possible for the Election Commission of Pakistan to simultaneously communicate to all 85,000 presiding officers spread all over the territory of the country to stop using the Result Transmission System? And secondly, why would the ECP give such an order? Is there any record of such an instruction given by the ECP? Where are the presiding officers who received this order? It boggles the sense that such a fanciful claim has been made on the record in one of the leading English newspapers of the country.

ECP officials, including its secretary, have made repeated appearances in the media to answer to critics. Where are NADRA officials who claim that the Election Commission decided to stop using the RTS system which was working without fault? This raises a number of the questions that the Chairman NADRA may have to answer.

There has been a huge furor in the media in the country over the failure of the Engineering Council RTS or the Result Transmission System on election day. The results of the elections have been marred by continuous allegations of rigging, manipulation, and fraud.

Usman Mobin was re-appointed for another three years as the Chairman of the National Database and Registration Authority by the PML-N government in February. Reportedly, the criterion for Chairman NADRA had been scrapped or amended prior to his appointment. Having a P.hd and foreign experience each amounted to 15 and 10 points, respectively. Mr. Mobin was 5th in the seniority list. The changing of criterion allowed the current NADRA chairman to climb up the list.

The failure of the Result Transmission System developed by NADRA is not entirely surprising if one accounts for the fact that there had been strong reservations against previous software it had developed. There was supposed to be an e-voting system for overseas Pakistanis to facilitate their votes in the elections. This system was prone to hackers. Similarly, there have been incidents of data leaks by NADRA before. ECP sought an explanation for one such leak back in June this year. The National Database and Registration Authority rejected these claims.

Read more: ECP snubs opposition parties over allegations of its failure in ensuring…

Most international observers to the general elections 2018 in Pakistan have said that the polling had been “transparent and fair”. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the entire saga of the failure of the Result Transmission System be investigated and the culprits behind the crash, if any, need to be brought to trial. It is imperative for two reasons; one, to find out the vulnerabilities in the system to make sure the same mistakes are not repeated next time and secondly, the unmask those responsible for fiddling around with our election process and violating the sanctity of the voters’ rights.

The Federal Investigation Agency, intelligence bodies, the criminal justice system all need to be on the same page to make sure such an occurrence does not repeat. The committee formed to investigate the matter must comprise of IT experts who are able to do the required forensic analysis of NADRA’s systems. Furthermore, it needs to be highlighted that this investigative process must be speedy. Otherwise, it will give time to the culprits to tamper with evidence of their crimes.


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