Improved Enforcement of Election Laws Marks Sahiwal By-Election

FAFEN observers disallowed observation at 10% of polling stations

Security forces barred FAFEN’s duly accredited representatives from observing the voting processes at 10 percent of the polling stations in the otherwise better managed by-election for the vacant National Assembly seat in Sahiwal (NA-162 Sahiwal-III) held on Monday, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN).

At more than 10 percent of the observed polling stations, security forces either intimidated FAFEN observers or hindered their observation. In other instances, observers were not allowed to enter the polling stations.

A senior security official deployed at one of the observed polling stations told FAFEN observer that they had instructions not to allow observers to enter the polling stations, especially during the counting process. These incidents also highlight an ever-increasing need for sensitizing and training the security staff about the election laws, rules and norms followed nationally and internationally.

Security personnel at more than 16 percent polling stations told FAFEN observers that they had not received any training or guidelines prior to their deployment. Most of them, however, claimed to have undergone a departmental briefing, although they did not receive any training or guidance on Election Day roles and responsibilities from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Wherever FAFEN observers were allowed to carry on with their work, the security personnel accompanied them, compromising the spirit of independent and neutral observation. In some instances, according to FAFEN observers, polling agents were disallowed from sitting inside the booths. FAFEN observers reported that security officials deployed inside the booths were positioned too close to secrecy screens, undermining voters’ constitutional right to secret ballot.

Notwithstanding curbs on observation, the otherwise persistent irregularities and illegalities were observed to have been contained in Sahiwal’s by-election. The average number of cases for irregularities reported during the by-election on Monday remained one per polling station, down from 2.4 violations per polling station witnessed during last by-election in Karachi.

Security forces deployed in and around polling stations were successful in stopping political parties and candidates from campaigning and canvassing close to the polling premises. However, candidates and parties continued to provide transportation to their potential voters at around 17 percent polling stations.

Party camps around polling stations were reported to be established around nearly nine percent polling stations as compared to camps established around 20 percent polling stations in Karachi by-election. Cases of unauthorized persons accompanying voters behind secrecy screens remained unchanged at around 12 percent. Similarly, opening process showed improvements as well. The instance of unauthorized persons present inside the polling stations at the time of its opening came down from more than three percent in last by-election to around 1.5 percent in Sahiwal by-election.

The by-election on September 19, 2016 was held as a result of Rai Hassan Nawaz’s disqualification for his failure to disclose his assets correctly. The PTI candidate had earlier won the 2013 general election bagging 88,974 votes. An independent candidate, Haji Muhammad Ayub, remained the runners-up with 75,756 votes. Later on, Mr. Ayub challenged Rai Hassan’s victory in election tribunal, which declared Rai Hassan’s election null and void. Rai Hassan challenged the decision in the Supreme Court but his appeal was rejected.

The number of registered voters in NA-162 Sahiwal-III increased by 11.1 percent vis-à-vis GE-2013 – an increase only second to Gujranwala where voter registration had risen by 15% before recent by-election.

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