Senior Pakistani Official Admits to Helping Rig the Vote

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A senior Pakistani official confessed on Saturday to helping manipulate results in the country’s elections — a startling claim strengthening a sense that the vote was among the least credible in Pakistan’s history, and deepening the turmoil that has seized the country ever since people went to the polls this month.

The official, Liaquat Ali Chatha, is a top administrative official in Punjab Province overseeing Rawalpindi, a garrison city where the military has its headquarters, and three adjacent districts. He said he would resign from his position and turn himself in to the police.

“We converted losers into winners, reversing margins of 70,000 votes of independent candidates for 13 national Parliament seats,” he said at a news conference on Saturday, referring to moving votes from independent candidates aligned with Imran Khan, the former prime minister whose party the military had sought to sideline ahead of the vote. He suggested other high-ranking officials had been a part of the scheme, and said he was unable to sleep at night after “stabbing the country in its back.”

Mr. Chatha’s admission came just over a week since Pakistanis went to the polls for the first time since Mr. Khan fell out with the military and was ousted by Parliament in 2022. Most had expected an easy victory for the party backed by the country’s powerful military, but instead, candidates aligned with Mr. Khan won more seats than any other party, though they fell short of a simple majority.

Mr. Khan was not on the ballot, being imprisoned and disqualified from running for office after convictions for crimes his supporters called trumped-up, yet the victory was clearly his. It was one of the biggest upsets in electoral history in Pakistan, where the military has typically engineered election results by winnowing the field of candidates using intimidation, clearing the way for its preferred party to win.

The success of candidates aligned with Mr. Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or P.T.I., upended that playbook and pushed the country’s political scene into uncharted territory.

Mr. Chatha’s confession appeared to lend weight to P.T.I. accusations that the military tampered with the vote count in dozens of races, particularly in Punjab, the country’s most populous province. Party leaders have vowed to challenge those results in court.

With Mr. Khan’s supporters, along with members of other smaller parties in Sindh and Balochistan Provinces, vigorously protesting the election results, P.T.I. leaders seized onto Mr. Chatha’s words as vindication.

“Rawalpindi commissioner’s conscience has been awakened,” said Haleem Adil Sheikh, a P.T.I. leader in the city of Karachi, addressing a large crowd of protesters on Saturday. “Every officer should follow him and expose the massive rigging in the polls.”

The protests have been a rebuke to the country’s military, which conducted a monthslong crackdown on the P.T.I. before the elections to secure a win by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or P.M.L.N.

Last week, the P.M.L.N., led by a three-time former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, announced it had cobbled together a coalition along with the country’s third-largest party, the Pakistan People’s Party, to lead the next government.

“The political parties’ claims gain new weight with this unexpected confession from a high-ranking official,” said Tausif Ahmed Khan, a political analyst based in Karachi. Mr. Chatha’s claims raise “serious concerns about the integrity of the electoral process and the potential illegitimacy of any future government formed based on these contested results,” he added.

Adding to the criticism, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the country’s independent watchdog, released a scathing report on Saturday expressing serious concerns about the credibility and integrity of the Feb. 8 vote. The report observed that the integrity of the elections was “compromised” by pressure from “extra-democratic quarters,” meaning the military.

It was not immediately clear what would result from Mr. Chatha’s news conference. Government officials ordered him on Saturday to report to the provincial government, according to a directive published by the governor of Punjab.

The same day, the Election Commission of Pakistan, the main body that conducts polls in the country, rejected Mr. Chatha’s accusations and ordered an “impartial probe” into complaints that election results had been manipulated.

As of Sunday, it was uncertain whether the Rawalpindi police had arrested him.

Christina Goldbaum contributed reporting.

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