Curbs on Observation in NA-63 Jhelum-II by-election

Heavy presence of security personnel observed inside polling stations 

Incidents of violations decreased significantly under ECP officials

ISLAMABAD, August 31, 2016: Security officials barred duly accredited FAFEN election observers from observing nearly 10 percent of the polling stations in the by-election for NA-63 (Jhelum-II) held on Wednesday. However, the observation was allowed in the by-election held for the Punjab Assembly constituency PP-232 (Vehari-I) the same day.

Restrictions on observation were put up by security forces deployed around and inside polling stations apparently due to lack of training on their responsibilities. Despite the accreditation cards issued to FAFEN by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), security officials did not only stop the observers from entering the polling stations but in some instances forcibly removed them from polling stations without allowing them to complete the observation. It indicates either weak control of ECP on the deployed security officials or lack of training viz-a-viz entitlements of observers.
FAFEN observers from 48 percent observed polling stations in NA-63 and 20 percent polling stations in PP-232 reported that the deployed security officials were not trained either by the ECP or by their own respective departments on their responsibilities.

A total of 388 cases of illegalities and irregularities were reported from 204 polling stations observed in NA-63 Jhelum averaging 1.9 violations per polling station. Similarly, 36 such violations were reported from 124 observed polling stations of PP-232 Vehari averaging around 1.1 violations per polling station. The continued decrease in number of average violations per polling station during recent by-elections reached at its lowest in Wednesday’s by-elections and speaks of greater administrative control of ECP on electoral processes. These by-elections were also managed by ECP’s own cadre that has proved to be a better enforcer of election rules on the polling day.

Increased enforcement and diminished illegalities, however, came at the risk of voter intimidation as security personnel were reported to be present inside more than 97% polling stations in NA-63 and around 80% in PP-232. Despite heavy presence of security personnel inside and outside the polling stations, unauthorized individuals were seen accompanying the voters behind the secrecy screens in 13 percent polling stations in Jhelum. At one out of every 10 observed polling stations in Vehari, unauthorized individuals were reported to be present inside the polling premises.
The ECP’s monitoring initiative took a step back as presiding officers from only seven percent polling stations in Jhelum and two percent in Vehari reported visits by ECP officials or designated monitoring teams.

FAFEN trained and deployed 71 non-partisan citizens – 42 men and 29 women – to observe the electoral processes on the National Assembly constituency whereas 39 observers – 21 women and 18 men – were trained and deployed in the Punjab Assembly constituency.

Among other violations of the ECP’s Code of Conduct for the Political Parties and Contesting Candidates, campaigning and canvassing around polling premises stood out once again. Parties and candidates were seen transporting their voters to nearly 30 percent polling stations in Jhelum and 15 percent polling stations in Vehari. Similarly, party camps were reported to be established around 21 percent polling stations in the National Assembly constituency and 15 percent in the Punjab Assembly constituency.

Although the voting process went on smoothly and no major procedural irregularities were reported from either of the constituencies, there were 30 percent polling stations in PP-232 and 11 percent in NA-63 where critical election material such as election forms was not adequately provided by the respective Returning Officers.

The by-election in NA-63 Jhelum-II was announced in wake of the death of PML-N legislator, Nawabzada Iqbal Mehdi, who had won the seat in GE-2013 by securing 116,013 votes. However, the election on Punjab Assembly constituency PP-232 Vehari-I was announced following election tribunal’s decision to disqualify Chaudhry Muhammad Yousaf Kuselya for failure to fully disclose his financial details. Mr. Kuselya got elected as an independent candidate in 2013 general election bagging 50,350 votes.

Although a provincial constituency, election in PP-232 saw greater contestation as 11 candidates, including one woman, contested the election as opposed to four candidates, all men, running for NA-63. All the three major parties i.e. PML-N, PPPP, PTI, fielded their candidates in NA-63 along with one independent candidate whereas eight out of 11 candidates in PP-232 ran independently in addition to a contestant each from PTI, PML-N and Pakistan Kissan Ittehad.

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