ISLAMABAD, October 26, 2017: Low women turnout, unchecked campaign and canvassing around polling stations and suspicious voting patterns at 10 polling booths remained key deficiencies of an otherwise well-managed and peaceful by-election on NA-4 Peshawar-IV constituency, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) on Thursday.
According to FAFEN estimates, the overall voter turnout is expected to remain around 30% with women voter turnout estimated at just 13.8% against 41.3% turnout of men. FAFEN’s preliminary report is based on the observation findings from 87 polling stations though the network observed over 90% polling stations by deploying 52 non-partisan and trained observers.
Although election staff efficiently managed the opening, voting and identification processes, illegal campaigning and canvassing by political parties and candidates were observed around 52 (60%) out of 87 polling stations by FAFEN observers.
FAFEN observers reported suspicious voting patterns at 10 polling booths where more than 45 votes per hour were recorded to be processed at the time of observation. Not more than 45 voters per hour per polling booth can be facilitated by polling staff.
FAFEN observers were restricted from observing the voting processes at 10% of observed polling stations despite carrying and prominently displaying ECP’s accreditation, mostly by security staff. FAFEN observers asked security personnel whether they got any training on election security, 27% of them responded in negative. This correlates to the arbitrary interpretation of election law by security officials and warrants for uniform training of security officials on managing election security.
The ECP conducted a pilot-test of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) at 35 polling stations. FAFEN observed the EVM trial at 26 polling stations and noted that secrecy of voters while using the EVM was not ensured at 25 of these polling stations. The staff of the company that provided these EVMs was observed operating the machines at ten polling stations. Overall, observers reported no technical glitch in mechanized voting as pseudo exercise at observed polling stations.
On an average, four violations of electoral laws, rules and codes of conduct per polling station were reported from each polling station. This average is consistent with the average violations recorded in last by-election in NA-120 in Lahore held in September, 2017. The highest number of reported violations (229) pertained to illegal campaigning and canvassing. Parties’ camps were witnessed outside 36 polling stations within the proscribed 400 meters boundary for campaigning and canvassing while transport was being provided by candidates and parties around 52 polling stations. FAFEN observers reported voter slips with party symbols printed being produced before polling officers at 116 polling booths. The parties’ or candidates’ promotional material was seen inside 25 polling stations.
The observers also reported 31 cases of Presiding Officers not carrying the required number of critical election materials like Statement of Account and Ballot Paper Account. Moreover, 33 violations relating to polling stations’ security, 16 of voters’ identification and 10 instances of unauthorized presence at polling stations were reported.
The seat had fallen vacant after the death of PTI lawmaker Gulzar Khan. The ECP had set-up 269 polling stations – 147 men, 111 women and 11 combined polling stations. Overall, a total of 837 polling booths – 492 men and 345 women – were set up in the constituency on October 26, 2017. A total of 397,904 including 162,740 women are registered as voters in this constituency. FAFEN conducted the observation of the pre-election process and polling day through 52 trained and non-partisan observers. The polling day observation covered 87 (32%) out of 269 polling stations set up in the constituency. Observers spent between 60 and 120 minutes in each polling station to document their observations and findings on a standardized checklist that is based on the provisions of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1976, Conduct of Elections Rules 1977 and instructional handbooks that the ECP has provided to election officials.
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