Fraudulent Voting, Low Turnout Mark PP-160 By-election

PP-160 By-election appeared to have been held in under the influence of the administration after judiciary withdrew. FAFEN has more.

ISLAMABAD, June 24, 2010: Incidents of fraudulent voting, low turnout and heavy presence of police and Rangers inside polling stations marked the by-election for the PP-160 constituency of the Punjab Assembly [Lahore-XXIV], reports the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary Report of PP-160 By-Election Observation.

The seat was vacated due to the resignation tendered by Mr. Rana Mubashir, who won the 2008 General Elections on a PML-N ticket by securing 42,056 votes when the voter turnout remained 41%. As many as 187,933 voters are registered in PP-160 – 106,890 male and 81,043 female. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had set-up 145 polling stations – 51 male, 48 female and 46 combined polling stations. The 145 polling stations had 307 polling booths – 164 male and 143 female.

PP-160 By-Election: FAFEN Deploys Observers

FAFEN deployed 18 trained observers on Election Day to monitor almost two third 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.

FAFEN observers reported that the District Coordination Officer called the Returning Officer to his office at least three times a day before the election, as informed by the RO staff. Influence of district officials in the electoral process has increased after the withdrawal of judiciary from the election administration last year. At times, district officials take decisions independent of electoral administration, compromising the independence of the electoral exercise.

According to FAFEN observers, location of at least one polling station in Tech Society was changed a night before the polling. At PS 44 (Government Boys Primary School Shadiwal Majha), polling was stopped for 40 minutes after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf workers clashed with PML-N workers, who were allegedly involved in fraudulent voting. At PS 66, 19 and 20, FAFEN observers were not allowed to observe the polling process. At one of the booths of PS 63 where armed men were present, FAFEN observer recorded 109 votes cast within 25 minutes after polling started.

At PS 78, a PMLN MNA was campaigning inside the polling station. An official vehicle of Punjab government bearing number LEH 3992 was parked outside the premises where PS 46, 47 and 48 were established.

At PS 100 (Government Boys High School Halloke), 104 percent votes were polled. As many as 532 votes were counted against the total registered votes of 512.

This preliminary report is based on observation of 60 polling stations – 24 male, 17 female and 19 combined. Some of FAFEN’s key findings include:

PP-160 By-Election: Voter Turnout

According to FAFEN observers reporting from 14 randomly sampled polling stations, the turnout remained 24.90 percent, considerably lower than the turnout in the 2008 general election. The turnout at male polling stations remained 27.7 percent and 19.2 percent at female polling stations. The turnout was 26.7 percent at combined polling stations.

Fraudulent Voting

At three of 60 observed polling stations [five percent of observed polling stations], additional counterfoils had been filled on the ballot books whereas at similar number of polling stations, ballot papers were issued without filling the counterfoils, indicating the possibility of fraudulent votes being stuffed in ballot boxes. Similarly, FAFEN observers reported from one polling station that the numbers of Computerized National Identity Cards 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 five polling stations, dubious thumb impressions marked on counterfoils of ballot books at the same angle with phasing out ink print were observed. 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 at 59 of 60 observed polling stations. Police and other security officials were present inside 24 polling stations. 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 two polling stations, the police officials were observed to have been persuading people to vote for a particular candidate and at similar number of polling stations they were influencing the election officials to favor a certain candidate.

Presence of armed civilians inside polling station was also reported from two polling stations, of which at one, they were also persuading people to vote for a certain candidate. At 17 polling stations, FAFEN observers said that they had seen individuals belonging to a certain political party wearing campaign badges/symbols of contesting candidates. At 14 polling stations, people who had already voted were present.

FAFEN observers also reported presence of local influential people, government officials, provincial minister and officials at nine 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 visited 12 polling stations and at eight, they were seen canvassing inside the polling stations, which is illegal. Under election laws, only candidates are authorized to visit polling stations.

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.

FAFEN observers reported incident of violence from one polling station. At polling station 44, polling stalled for 40 minutes due to a clash between the workers of PMLN and PTI.

PP-160 By-Election: Campaigning & Canvassing

FAFEN observers reported from 56 polling stations (93 percent of observed 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. Candidates or their workers were observed to have been persuading voters to vote in their favor at eight of 60 observed polling stations, while at one polling station, an election official was seen campaigning for a certain candidate.

Candidates or their workers attempted to influence election officials at four of 60 observed polling stations. At one polling station a provincial minister was observed to trying to influence the elections officials. At one polling station each, armed civilians and government officials tried to influence the police.

Campaign materials, including banners and posters, of particularly the PML-N and PTI candidates continued to be displayed in and around the most of the observed polling stations whereas the electoral laws clearly task the Presiding officials to remove all campaign materials in a radius of 100 meters around polling stations before the Election Day.

At 11 polling stations, FAFEN observers reported the presence of armed civilians at party camps. Such display of arms inhibits voters from turning out to vote as well as compel them to vote under pressure.

Two certain candidates had made elaborate arrangements for transportation of voters to polling stations. Provision of transportation to voters is also prohibited under election laws, which also increases the election expenses manifold.

Partisan Election Officials and Breach of Right to Secret Voting

FAFEN observers reported from three polling stations that unauthorized persons and election officials were going behind the secrecy screen to help the voters stamp their ballots.

PP-160 By-Election: Restrictions to FAFEN Observation

FAFEN observers were not allowed to observe the counting of votes at three polling stations.

FAFEN Recommendations

Having observed the aforementioned irregularities during the by-election, FAFEN recommends:

  1. 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.
  2. The ECP should reprimand all election officials who failed to enforce the election rules and laws.
  3. 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.
  4. To eliminate unauthorized people from being in polling stations:
    1. Presiding Officers should be encouraged and provided adequate protections to use their magisterial powers.
    2. All polling officials must be required to carry their Government Service Cards to prove their identity on Election Day.
    3. 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.
    4. Only people carrying proper identifications should be permitted inside polling stations and allowed to vote.
    5. Adequate security checks should be performed in order to prevent unauthorized and armed persons in and around polling stations.
    6. All polling officials must be required to carry their Government Service Cards to prove their identity on Election Day.
  5. Adequate training of all polling officials must be ensured for all by-elections.
  6. Polling officials should ensure that all campaign materials and camps are removed from around the polling stations.
  7. 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.
  8. Result of polling stations with more than 100 percent turnout must be declared null and void.

About FAFEN: The 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.