Karachi Sees Peaceful But Lackluster By-Election in NA-258

ECP improves training of security staff, enhances monitoring

ISLAMABAD, November 28, 2016: Large-scale deployment of police and Rangers ensured peaceful conduct of by-election in NA-258 (Malir, Karachi-XX) amid lack of political interest and low voter turnout, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN).

Alleging interference by the PP-led provincial government, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat boycotted the by-election, dampening the interest of the voters as well. PML-N had not fielded any candidate. PPPP’s Abdul Hakeem Baloch was among 11 candidates who were vying for the seat. Baloch had earlier won the same seat on a PML-N ticket in the General Election 2013 but resigned after developing differences with his party. He later joined PPPP, which fielded him as its candidate for the by-election.

FAFEN trained and deployed 40 (34 men and six women) non-partisan citizens to observe the polling processes at 287 polling stations. However, this preliminary report contains information gathered telephonically from 127 polling stations (14 male, 14 female and 99 combined) on Election Day. The observers were trained to observe the opening, closing and counting processes at the polling stations.

According to FAFEN observers, voters showed little interest in the election as the overall turnout in the constituency that sprawled over rural and semi-urban neighborhoods of Karachi remained low. Although the electoral exercise remained peaceful, observers reported procedural irregularities form different polling stations observed throughout the day. There were 271 reports of irregularities from 127 polling stations – 14 male, 14 female and 99 combined observed on polling day, averaging 2.1 incidents per polling station. This is significantly higher than the average of one irregularity per polling station recorded during Shikarpur by-election (PS-11) held last month.

Insufficient availability of critical election materials such as election forms continued to be one of the major issues reported by the observers. Observers from 70 (55.1%) of the total 127 polling stations observed through the day reported insufficient availability of Form-XIV Statement of the Count whereas Ballot Account Forms (Form-XV) were found to be short at 50 (39.4%) of the polling stations.

Widespread presence of security personnel could not ensure the enforcement of ECP’s Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Contesting Candidates that prohibits contestants from establishing election camps within 400-yards of the polling stations. Observers reported the presence of such camps outside 31 (24.4%) polling stations. These camps continued to issue serial number slips holding party symbol to potential voters. Voters carrying such serial number slips were seen to be present inside 53 (41.7%) of the observed polling stations.

Candidates and parties resorted to other campaigning and canvassing tactics as well. Reports from 17 (13.4%) polling stations showed campaign materials displayed on polling stations’ boundary walls whereas candidates were seen providing transportation to potential voters at 13 (10.2%) of the observed polling stations.

Secrecy of ballot continued to be an issue, once again, with observers reporting unauthorized persons accompanying voters behind secrecy screens at six (4.7%) of the observed polling stations. ECP was able to ensure independence of observation as only one observer was reportedly stopped from observing the electoral processes.

Keeping in view the security concerns in the constituency, ECP deployed heavy security inside and outside the polling stations. FAFEN observers reported that security officials were present inside 116 polling stations. Compared to previous by-elections, this time around, training of security officials for the by-election improved where security officials at 64 polling stations were given training on electoral processes.

ECP showed greater interest in monitoring its own staff on the polling day as presiding officers at 27 polling stations told FAFEN observers that monitoring teams had visited their polling stations. Similarly, Returning Officers or other ECP designated officials visited 35 polling stations.

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