- Acceptance of results by contesting parties to augur well for democracy
- Direct election to all LG tiers sets example for other provinces
ISLAMABAD, December 21, 2021: Pakistan inched towards the installation of the constitutionally-promised local governments (LGs) when around 40 percent of registered voters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) turned out to vote on December 19, 2021 in 17 districts to elect more than 14,000 representatives on general and reserved seats, and four city mayors and 60 tehsil chairmen in an election that remained largely orderly, lawful and transparent but fell short on complete compliance with procedural formalities, and registered a considerable percentage of votes that were excluded from the count at the polling stations.
In what was undoubtedly one of the largest and most complex electoral exercises in the country, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has been able to manage the pre-election and election day processes by law and procedures, despite last minute court orders that had declared the legal scheme of LG elections – that were to be originally contested on a non-party basis – ultra vires to the Constitution. Despite fears of an inordinate delay, the Election Commission ensured the electoral exercise to be conducted by the original schedule, setting the ball rolling for the establishment of the third-tier of the government, which had been on hold for more than two years in all federal entities due to legal hitches curtaining the absence of political will to decentralize and devolve powers to the grassroots.
The KPLG elections during the first phase were held in Peshawar, Buner, Bajaur, Swabi, Nowshera, Kohat, Karak, Charsadda, Dera Ismail (D.I) Khan, Tank, Haripur, Mardan, Bannu, Khyber, Mohmand, Hangu and Lakki Marwat. During this phase, the LG elections were held for four city mayors of Kohat, Peshawar, Mardan and Bannu. The election for the city mayor of D.I. Khan was postponed due to the assassination of the Awami National Party (ANP) candidate. Moreover, the LG polls were held for 60 tehsil chairmen, and more than 2,200 village and neighborhood councils. The ECP had set up a total of 9,132 polling stations including 3,340 male, 2,978 female and 2,814 combined. These polling stations had a total of 28,883 polling booths including 16,327 for men and 12,556 for women to facilitate 12,668,862 registered voters – 7,015,767 men and 5,653,095 women.
A lower turnout than the General Elections (GE) 2018 was recorded during these elections. The turnout remained around 40 percent during the KPLG elections as compared to 45.8 percent in GE-2018. However, the turnout in the current LG elections is almost equivalent to 2015 LG elections, when it remained 40.50 percent for the province. According to the unofficial results of 46 tehsils released by the ECP, the turnout remained 40 percent – highest being 60 percent in Paroa in D.I. Khan and the lowest 22 percent in Tall in Hangu. These turnout figures have been prepared on the basis of Form XIX (Provisional Consolidated Statement of Results of the Count) for the seats of tehsil chairmen and city mayors.
Expectation of a high turnout may have not been met due to multiple factors but not excluding a general distrust in the efficacy of LGs, which have largely remained under-powered to deliver upon the expectations of people during their last tenure 2015-2019. However, the gender disaggregated turnout is not available as the 26 Forms XIX do not contain this data. According to available gender-disaggregated data for 20 tehsils, female turnout remained 16.69 percent as compared to 26.96 percent male turnout. At none of these tehsils, for which gender-disaggregated data is available, the turnout of women remained less than 10 percent of the total polled votes.
More concerning, however, is the number of votes excluded from the count, which stands at seven percent, according to these provisional results. As many as 25 of these provisional results have a Margin of Victory which is less than the number of ballots excluded from the count, though the decision for the final rejection of these excluded ballots will be made after their review by the Returning Officers (ROs) during the proceeding for results consolidation to be completed on December 24, 2021. Of these, eight tehsils are won by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), six by Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam Pakistan (JUIP), five by Awami National Party (ANP), two by Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PMLN), one each by Pakistan Peoples’ Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) and Tehreek-e-Islahaat Party (TIP), and two by Independents.
The positive aspect of these elections is the prompt acceptance of their results by all major political parties in the province particularly the senior leaders of incumbent PTI, which lost ground to rival opposition parties in many of its strongholds. This will augur well for democracy and may just be the first in Pakistan’s political history where election results have generally been challenged and electoral defeats not generously accepted. Other major political parties have also accepted the voting and counting processes as largely legitimate, and have yet to contest their quality, notwithstanding some isolated complaints, and scattered and localized incidents of violence that disrupted the polling on election day and in some cases compelling the Election Commission to order either cancellation of election or re-polling. The elections for tehsil and village (VC)/neighborhood councils (NC) in Baka Khel Wazir, Bannu will be rescheduled. Similarly, the elections were postponed in seven VCs and NCs in four districts – VC Kot Esa Khan and VC Rata Kulachi-1 in D.I. Khan, NC Baghe Irum and NC Kot Ismail Zai in Mardan, VC Azam Michankhel in Lakki Marwat, and VC Nawa in Bajaur due to deaths of contesting candidates. Moreover, the voting at six polling stations in Peshawar was halted and subsequently postponed due to incidents of violence on the election day. However, an exhaustive list of polling stations where the Election Commission would order re-polling is still awaited.
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