ISLAMABAD, August 20, 2016: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) effectively curtailed otherwise commonly found party camps around polling stations to curb illegal campaigning and canvassing in a low-turnout by-election held on a Sindh Assembly constituency in Jacobabad (PS-14) on Saturday.
The party camps that were established before start of the poll were removed by security personnel in this constituency where all the polling stations were declared sensitive. The polling, however, remained largely peaceful. The District Returning Officer and the Returning Officer who supervised this by-election were from ECP’s own cadre of officers.
FAFEN observers, on an average, reported approximately four violations of electoral laws, rules and codes of conduct polling station from 102 observed polling stations which was less than other by-elections held in Sindh province lately.
The by-election in the constituency was necessitated due to demise of PPP MPA Sardar Muhammad Muqeem Khan Khoso who had won this constituency in General Election 2013 by securing 15,838 votes. A total of 12 candidates – five from parties and seven independents – ran for the constituency in by-election. Apart from PPPP, PMLN, PTI and JUI-F, Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen also contested the election. PS-14 covers areas of Jacobabad Municipal Committee and parts of Thul Taluka.
FAFEN trained and deployed 34 non-partisan observers – 28 male and six female – to observe all 163 polling stations set up by ECP. However, this preliminary report is based on the information received from the 102 polling stations on the Election Day. The observers were trained to observe the opening, closing and counting processes of the election. There were 145,957 registered voters – 77,610 male and 68,347 female – in the constituency, showing an increase of 7.6% as compared to voters registered for GE 2013. ECP established 163 polling stations – 67 male, 63 female and 33 combined with 478 polling booths for the by-poll.
The pre-voting processes were observed to be relatively smooth as only three violations were reported regarding polling agents making objections on starting processes and six of unauthorized persons being present inside polling stations.
Although party camps were removed, promotional material of parties and candidates was witnessed inside seven polling stations while voters were seen carrying vote vouchers issued by parties and candidates at 227 polling booths, which is another form of illegal campaigning and canvassing on the Election Day.
Arrangements to facilitate women voters were observed to be inadequate as FAFEN observers witnessed male staff deployed at 45 female polling booths to facilitate female voters. As a result, at two polling booths, many female voters turned back due to presence of male staff. Female staff to facilitate female voters is essential to ensure women participation in constituencies where culture of gender-segregation is dominant.
Right of secrecy of voters was witnessed to be breached at 17 polling booths where other voters were accompanying voters behind the secrecy screens. Similarly, polling agents and polling officers were seen stamping ballot on behalf of voters at three and two polling stations, respectively. At least one FAFEN observer was barred from observing the electoral processes.
Few potential deviations from polling scheme were also observed. At 20 polling stations, the presiding officers either did not know or did not provide the number of census block codes assigned to their polling stations. Three census blocks of polling station 33 were assigned to the polling station 80, potentially depriving of voters from these census blocks to vote or causing difficulty in reaching to their assigned polling station.
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