Fraudulent Voting, Heavy Police Presence Mark PP-284 By-Election

PP-284 by-election: At 16 polling stations, additional counterfoils had been filled on the ballot books, reports FAFEN.

 

ISLAMABAD, March 10, 2010: By-election for the PP-284 constituency of the Punjab Assembly [Bahawalnagar-VIII] was characterized by heavy presence of police in and around polling stations, campaigning and canvassing at polling stations in violation of the electoral laws, instances of possible fraudulent voting and significant procedural irregularities, reports the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary Report of PP-284 By-Election Observation.

The seat had fallen vacant after the disqualification of Mr. Muhammad Rauf Khalid, MPA Punjab Assembly. Mr. Muhammad Rauf won the 2008 General Elections by securing 26,888 votes from the constituency in February 2008, with voter turnout of 48%. As many as 180,226 voters are registered in PP-284, with 97,211 being males and 83,015 females. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had set-up 130 polling stations – 10 male, 10 female and 130 Combined Polling Stations.

FAFEN deployed 17 trained observers on Election Day to monitor more than 90 percent of the polling stations set up in the constituency. Observers spent between 45 and 60 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.

This preliminary report is based on information from 71 polling stations – five male, six female and 60 Combined Polling Stations. Some of FAFEN’s key findings include:

PP-284 By-Election: Voter Turnout

According to FAFEN observers reporting from eight randomly sampled Combined Polling Stations, voter turnout was between 45 and 50 percent. FAFEN will release gender disaggregated turnout as part of its detailed final report. The following table, however, shows a gender-disaggregated trend of turnout gathered from polling stations until 1600 hours on Election Day:

Possible Fraudulent Voting

At 16 polling stations, additional counterfoils had been filled on the ballot books, and 8 polling stations had ballot papers issued without filling the counterfoils, indicating the possibility of fraudulent voting. Similarly, FAFEN observers reported from 6 polling stations that the numbers of Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs) of voters as written on the counterfoils of the ballot books did not match the corresponding entries on the electoral rolls, again raising the possibility that fraudulent voting might have taken place. At 16 polling stations, FAFEN observers saw dubious thumb impressions marked on counterfoils of ballot books at the same angle with phasing out ink print. In the case of genuine voters, each thumb impression is marked in fresh, dark ink and may be at varying angles.

Unauthorized Persons Inside Polling Stations

FAFEN observers reported presence of unauthorized people from more than 20 polling stations.  At 64 polling stations, police and other security officials were present inside polling stations and polling booths. Many presiding officers said that security officers were present inside the premises of polling stations without their permission. Under electoral rules, even at sensitive polling stations, police is only authorized to maintain order outside polling stations in order to ensure smooth polling. They can only enter polling stations or booths when requested by the presiding officer. At one polling station, the police officials were observed to have been persuading people to vote for a particular candidate.

Presence of armed civilians was also reported from one polling station where they were also pressurizing the election officials to support a particular candidate. At 12 polling stations, FAFEN observers said they had seen individuals belonging to certain political party wearing campaign badges/symbols of contesting candidates. At 16 polling stations, people who had already voted were present, creating chaos and disorder.

FAFEN observers also reported presence of local influential people, government officials, federal and provincial ministers and officials at five polling stations. Some of these unauthorized persons were either canvassing for a particular candidate or influencing the electoral officials to act in a certain way. However, candidates with their armed bodyguards were observed to have been visiting 22 polling stations. Under election laws, only candidates are authorized to visit polling stations. However, they cannot bring in their bodyguards unless specifically permitted by the returning officer.

PP-284 By-Election: Campaigning and Canvassing

FAFEN observers reported from 58 polling stations that the workers of contesting candidates were campaigning and canvassing in violation of election laws that bar the same within 400 yards of polling stations. Reports also indicate presence of armed civilians at party camps around three polling stations.

Partisan Election Officials and Breach of Right to Secret Voting

FAFEN observers reported from six polling stations that unauthorized persons and election officials were stamping ballots on behalf of voters. At five polling stations, unauthorized persons were observed to have been going behind the secrecy screen to assist voters in stamping ballots. Such practices interfere with people’s right to vote in secrecy, a fundamental electoral right. At some polling stations, secrecy screens were affixed in a manner that election officials could view voters stamping their ballots. In most polling stations, voters were allowed to vote with old NICs and/or any identity documents.

Many of the procedural irregularities especially the presence of unauthorized personnel inside polling stations, including security officials, may just be due to lack of training of election staff, who are generally not clear of their authority under the election laws.

PP-284 By-Election: Violence

FAFEN observers reported incidents of violence from four polling stations.

FAFEN Recommendations

  • Having observed the aforementioned irregularities during the by-election FAFEN recommends:
  • The ECP should ensure that security officials perform only their designated duty of maintaining law and order outside of polling stations and do not attempt to manage election officials.
  • The ECP should reprimand all election officials who failed to enforce the election rules and laws.
  • The ECP and all provincial, district, and local election officials should administer each by-election with the same vigilance and attention to enforcing the law and procedures as during any general election. The result of any by-election not administered vigilantly should be voided.
  • To eliminate unauthorized people from being in polling stations:
    • Presiding Officers should be encouraged and provided adequate protections to use their magisterial powers.
    • All polling officials must be required to carry their Government Service Cards to prove their identity on Election Day.
    • Polling officials should ensure that only one polling agent representing each political party – and carrying proper identification from their party – is permitted in each polling booth.
    • Only people carrying proper identifications should be permitted inside polling stations and allowed to vote.
    • Adequate security checks should be performed in order to prevent unauthorized and armed persons in and around polling stations.
    • All polling officials must be required to carry their Government Service Cards to prove their identity on Election Day.
  • Adequate training of all polling officials must be ensured for all by-elections
  • Polling officials should ensure that all campaign materials and camps are removed from around the polling stations.
  • More generally, given the consistent weaknesses in ECP by-election administration, by-elections should be minimized by restricting each candidate in general elections to contesting in only one constituency

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