- Sporadic illegalities, irregularities persist
- Low women contestation warrants urgent attention by political parties
QUETTA, June 03, 2022: Balochistan completed the first phase of the local government (LG) polls to elect over 6,000 general councilors in an election that remained controversy-free followed by prompt acceptance of the results by all major political parties. Such an acceptance augurs well for democracy and development in the province where the integrity of electoral exercises has previously been questioned.
Despite sporadic illegalities and irregularities, the elections remained largely peaceful, orderly and better-managed. Campaigning and canvassing around polling stations, non-provision of copies of result forms to polling agents, inconsistent compliance with the legal provision to permit voters present inside the polling station after 5:00 pm to cast their vote and issues of secrecy of voters remained some of major areas that need to be stringently enforced. FAFEN observers reported large number of voters turning out to vote on election-day. Although majority of polling stations (65 percent) were categorized as sensitive or most-sensitive security-wise, the election-day remained largely peaceful with scattered incidents of local violence reported in 23 districts.
Election Day followed a highly competitive campaign with political parties and independent candidates freely canvassing in a largely peaceful environment. As many as 17,774 candidates – 17,642 male and 132 female – were in the run for general seats fielded by 17 political parties in 6,259 wards (5,345 rural and 914 urban wards) in municipal corporations, municipal committees and union councils. The ECP had set up a total of 6,237 polling stations – 671 male, 652 female and 4,914 combined. These polling stations had a total of 13,533 polling booths including 6,867 for men and 6,307 for women to facilitate 3,614,724 voters – 2,043,828 male and 1,570,896 female voters.
Following the May 29 elections of representatives on general seats, ECP is now due to hold indirect elections for the seats reserved for women, peasants or workers, and religious minorities, and the elections for Chairmen and Vice Chairmen of the local councils. Moreover, the ECP has yet to announce schedule for general seats elections in two major districts with sizeable urban population in the province i.e. Quetta and Lasbela, which were earlier withheld because of issues with the delimitation of wards.
After the expiry of LGs in Balochistan on January 27, 2019, it took over three years for ECP to conduct LG elections as these continued to face delay on one pretext or the other by the provincial government. Lack of consensus among political parties over amendments to the Balochistan LG Act (BLGA), 2010 and delimitation of constituencies remained the primary hurdles before the conduct of election. The Balochistan Assembly in February 2019 and April 2022 recommended to the Election Commission through resolutions postponement of the LG polls due to impending amendments to the BLGA and subsequent delimitations. The provincial government had also petitioned the Election Commission to withhold the elections to allow introduction of necessary amendments to the BLGA, 2010. However, a three-member bench of the ECP rejected the petition on April 14, 2022 and announced the date for election-day.
Scattered incidents of localized violence in 23 districts partially disrupted the polling processes on election-day. FAFEN observers reported 63 incidents of violence inside or around 53 polling stations. A majority of these were verbal brawls and scuffles between workers of contesting candidates and political parties, while a few incidents of armed and unarmed physical clashes were also reported. As many as six persons including a child were reportedly injured due to these armed and unarmed physical clashes. In addition to FAFEN observation, local media also reported various incidents of armed and unarmed clashes resulting in at least one death and multiple injuries.
Though the Election Commission has taken extraordinary measures over the last few years to improve inclusivity of elections particularly by focusing on women, persons with disabilities and transgender people, women participation as candidates has remained a cause of serious concern. As witnessed during Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) LG elections, only 132 women (less than one percent) contested in various wards in urban and rural councils of Balochistan. No woman contested elections on any general seat in 10 districts – Killa Abdullah, Chaman, Nushki, Chagai, Zhob, Sherani, Killa Saifullah, Harnai, Ziarat and Surab. Such low contestation by women reinforces the need for political parties to reform their local structures and organization to encourage more women and other members of marginalized segments of population to emerge as leaders.
This preliminary report is based on the observation of over 12 percent of 6,237 polling stations on which elections were held for the first phase of LG elections. This includes reports from 128 male polling stations, 93 female polling stations and 527 combined polling stations. FAFEN deployed 266 nonpartisan Election Day observers – 70 women and 196 men – to observe the voting and counting processes at around 15 percent of the total polling stations across 32 districts. Each observer was required to observe up to four polling stations for in-depth observation of the quality of the electoral processes. FAFEN’s observation methodology is based on the BLGA, 2010 (as amended up to April 2019), the Elections Act, 2017, the Elections Rules, 2017, and the Codes of Conduct notified under the laws. For the training of FAFEN’s election-day observers, as many as 25 training workshops were held across the province covering technical aspects of voting and counting processes.