ECP Decisive Actions Needed To Increase Voter Numbers

ISLAMABAD: The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has called upon Chief Election Commissioner Justice (Retd) Qazi Muhammad Farooq to take immediate measures to bridge the gap between the 18-year-old or above population and the number of voters registered on the draft electoral rolls currently on public display throughout the country.

“Millions of voters who are not on the draft electoral rolls need to be registered in order to conduct a credible election. The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) must take a decisive action to rectify the situation either through an executive order or by seeking support from legislature or the President,” reads an open letter sent to the CEC by FAFEN.

FAFEN, in its letter, suggests that every citizen who has been issued a Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) and is on the NADRA rolls must automatically be included on the electoral rolls. “The objective should be to enable as many people as possible to vote in the upcoming election.”

FAFEN says that such out of box options are required to be considered in view of serious flaws in the implementation of the ongoing process of the display of draft electoral rolls, as indicated by its findings from the first week of data collection at 1,037 Display Centres by its 750 observers throughout the country. Some of these problems could be addressed in the remaining days of the display period that will end on July 3, 2007.

According to FAFEN findings, 88.0% of ECP Display Centre Information Officers (DCIOs) mistakenly believe that “it is necessary” for citizens to bring their CNIC/NIC cards to the Display Center in order to register to vote. Many eligible voters who cannot provide a photocopy of their NIC/CNIC card are being turned away from Display Centres by the DCIOs.

However, the ECP Manual of Instructions for Display Centre Information Officers (page 6, English version) states clearly that a citizen must provide their CNIC/NIC number, but “it is not required that a citizen bring his or her CNIC/NIC to the Display Centre”. A citizen must have their CNIC/NIC number with them in order to get registered.

Moreover, 86.5% of DCIOs believe wrongly that a judicial Revising Authority (RA) will “hold a hearing for every person who files a form to add their name to the electoral roll”. Citizens are being informed by DCIOs that they must attend a hearing in another location at a later date, an additional step that is deterring many people from completing the voter registration process. However, the ECP Manual of Instruction (page 7, English version) states that DCIOs should instead inform citizens that their “claim for inclusion [on the electoral roll] will be reviewed in a summary inquiry by a Revising Authority who is a judge” and “The Revising Authority may call the citizen to a hearing if he/she is not satisfied with the claim for inclusion”.

Similarly, only 0.4% of DCIOs are female and there are no separate areas at any of the Display Centres for female eligible voters to receive assistance in order to fill out the necessary ECP form to add their names to the electoral roll. The lack of female DCIOs and separate Display Centres for women is inexcusable given that the percentage of registered women voters on the new electoral roll is significantly decreased from the percentage who were registered on the previous voters’ list, and given the fact that cultural factors will prevent many women from receiving assistance from a male DCIO to fill out their forms for inclusion as voters.

Additionally, 29.8% of DCIOs reported that they received no training at all, and an additional 7.2% (for a total of 36%) said they were “not satisfied” with the training they received. The ECP has a responsibility to train fully the personnel who are serving the public in Display Centres during a process of such national importance and priority.

As many as 31.9% of DCIOs are “not satisfied with the security arrangements” at their Display Centers, and 14.2% DCIOs have no “cell phone or other way to call for help” if there is a problem. Election security is of vital importance and should have been given much more attention, given historical experience of electoral intimidation in some locations including recent by-elections in Karachi, Jamshoro, Bannu, and Jhang observed by FAFEN and given the current tense (and sometimes violent) political environment.

FAFEN urges the CEC to issue an immediate instruction/clarification to all DCIOs through the Assistant Election Commissioners (AECs), Registration Officers (ROs), and Assistant Registration Officers (AROs) to allow eligible voters to fill out ECP Form IV for inclusion on the electoral roll even if they do not have their CNIC/NIC with them, as long as they have their CNIC/NIC number.

Moreover, DCIOs must also be instructed to tell eligible voters that a Revising Authority might call them for a hearing about their request for inclusion on the electoral roll, but that Revising Authorities will review the requests with a summary inquiry that in most cases will not require a hearing.

Extension in the outreach of Display Centres is also required, particularly to female eligible voters. This can be done by recruiting and training urgently as many female DCIOs as possible, establishing separate Women’s Display Centres, and making some male and female DCIOs mobile.

At the same time the ECP needs to put in place effective monitoring mechanisms now and during the elections to alert it to problems in electoral administration in a timely and effective way, potentially engaging civil society in this effort.

About FAFEN:

The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) is a coalition of thirty leading Pakistani civil society organizations. It was established in 2006 to observe the election process, educate voters, and advocate for electoral and democratic reform.