Long-Term Electoral System Reform Essential

General Elections 2008 have been the most closely watched ever in Pakistan’s history. Several observers and commentators have already expressed their satisfaction with the administration of the polls of Election Day.

However, Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) believes that Election Day is only a small part of the overall electoral process.  FAFEN urges all citizens of Pakistan as well as the international community to remain vigilant about the remaining parts of the process before reaching conclusions.  This includes announcement and acceptance of election results as well as resolution of electoral complaints and petitions.  FAFEN also urges all stakeholders, including the international donor community, to stay focused on the longer-term electoral and governance reform issues that need sustained attention in the months and years ahead.

These elections were held in an environment that was marred by security fears, the assassination of Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) Chairperson Mohtarama Benazir Bhutto, and a boycott campaign by political parties that were protesting against the imposition of a state of emergency in November 2007 and the dismissal of members of the superior judiciary by President Pervez Musharraf.

FAFEN has previously commented publicly on the serious implications of the state of emergency and the dismissal of the judges, among other issues, on the General Elections.  We invite the media and others to see our website www.fafen.org for many earlier public statements and FAFEN Election Updates on a wide range of pre-election topics affecting the conduct of these elections. These issues are equally as important as election day observation to any conclusions about the General Elections.

FAFEN’s long-term recommendations include:

  • The new government should include electoral system reform high on its agenda, including all legal and administrative aspects
  • The 2007 computerized voters list should be improved by verifiable addition of all eligible voters missing on the list and deletion of all duplicate and other fictitious records
  • ECP must be completely independent of politics and bureaucracy. It must have full control and accountability over all aspects of election administration, including the role of District Returning Officers (DROs) and ROs.
  • The ECP must have mechanisms for enforcement of its Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Contesting Candidates, campaign expense limits, and use of state resources for campaigning.
  • The ECP should introduce and enforce rules with no ambiguity about involvement of government representatives at any level in the electoral process.
  • ECP should introduce time-bound complaint and appeal redressal mechanisms.
  • Political parties must educate their candidates on the need to adhere to election rules and codes of conduct

On the basis of its countrywide observation by almost 20,000 long-term and polling day observers, FAFEN has released 19 Election Updates (in advance of the polls) and two Election Day Updates, providing concrete data and analysis on various aspects of the election process. FAFEN has raised concerns about a broad range of irregularities in the pre-election phase. Its two Election Day Updates flagged a series of issues that were observed on February 8, 2008.

  1. 1.     Weak Election Administration

While some areas including training of election officials, quality of election materials and dissemination of election-related information by the Election Commission of Pakistan registered improvement, uniform enforcement of election laws, regulations and rules remained weak.

Procedures relating to nomination and appointment of election officials and identification of polling station locations were unevenly implemented. Finalization of polling schemes was delayed in many constituencies much beyond the stipulated time.

One of the most critical areas of election-related complaint handling system remained weak, though there has been an increasing effort by the ECP to gear it up at its secretariat. However, the system was interpreted differently at the provincial and district levels, making it either dysfunctional or ineffective.

Another area of concern has been widespread violation of the election expense limits by contesting candidates. Absence of election expense limit on political parties also led to a glut of campaign advertisements on electronic and print media.

  1. 2.     Widespread use of Government Resources

FAFEN has been reporting on partisan role of district and tehsil Nazims from all over the country throughout the pre-election phase. Most of these partisan Nazims had publicly supported candidates affiliated with PML-Q. There were a few other districts where Nazims were supporting candidates fielded by other parties as well.

However, use of government resources including officials, buildings and vehicles was more prevalent in districts where Nazims were supporting PML-Q candidates as compared to districts where Nazims were supporting candidates fielded by other political parties.

Many of these districts with PML-Q affiliated Nazims also witnessed greater interference of police in election process. In these districts, police officials intimidated voters and harassed supporters of candidates who were rivaling PML-Q candidates.

Districts that reported highest level of police interference also registered considerable numbers of posting and transfers of police officials during the election process.

  1. 3.     Flawed but Fixable Electoral Rolls

Pakistan’s 2008 Final Electoral Roll (FER) is a combination of a new, computerized list produced in 2007 (the “2007 Electoral Roll,” based on an enumeration by the ECP in 2006) and some names added from the 2002 electoral roll (the “2002 Supplemental List,” produced in September-October 2007 following a Supreme Court ruling).

FAFEN conducted a statistically valid audit of the 2007 Draft Electoral Roll in June-July 2007 and concluded that the list was significantly incomplete (missing millions of eligible voters), but remarkably accurate (the names and information were listed correctly and represented real, eligible voters).  FAFEN’s most recent analysis shows that there are still approximately 15 million eligible voters missing on the list and about 7.5 million duplicate (or potentially fake) voters.

  1. 4.     DROs and ROs Not Adhering to ECP Procedures

FAFEN began writing to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in October 2007 about the need to accredit 20,000 election observers in 264 constituencies of the country. The ECP eventually issued instructions in December 2007 and again in January 2008 to Provincial Election Commissioners (PECs) for “accreditation” (authorization) of 20,000 FAFEN national election observers by District Returning Officers (DROs).  PECs promptly responded and sent letters to or called DROs.

However, many DROs in the four provinces either refused to implement the ECP procedures, or they imposed additional unnecessary procedures. As a result, FAFEN could receive 18,829 accreditation cards, more than 1,000 short of what it had originally requested. More than 6,000 such cards had to be issued to FAFEN by ECP in Islamabad or Provincial Election Commissioners in Lahore and Peshawar – a function that should have been performed by DROs and ROs.

The task of accrediting national election observers has been outsourced by the ECP to District and Session Judges who are called DROs while they fulfill their election duties.  The ECP apparently has little or no control to enforce instructions to these judges.  If the ECP cannot implement a uniform national election procedure like accreditation of national observers at the district level, this does not bode well for other aspects of the election process.  ROs and DROs are responsible for other very important parts of the election process – such as finalizing the list of polling stations, enforcing the Election Code of Conduct, compiling election results, and resolving election complaints and petitions.  But the DROs and ROs evidently have the power to ignore ECP instructions and apply their own procedures on a district-by-district basis.

Finally on this topic, FAFEN notes that ROs in almost 90 constituencies refused to allow FAFEN observers to monitor the compilation of polling station results at their offices in defiance of clear, specific instructions from the ECP.

  1. 5.     Violations of election rules by political parties

There appears to be a little check by political parties on their candidates for the adherence to the Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Contesting candidates. Almost all sections of the Code were violated by candidates from the contesting parties. This has an implication on the election process in multiple ways: burdening of an already dysfunctional election complaints handling mechanism, breach of expense limits, frictions among electoral contestants leading to violence and painting of political parties in negative image for breaching writ of the law that they promise to enforce.
      6.   Election Day Irregularities

 FAFEN will receive comprehensive data from all observed polling stations in the week ahead.  The following issues were raised by FAFEN observers at about 8,000 polling stations on election day.  However, these issues were not so extensive or widespread to call into question the results of the election, s mentioned in our Election Day Updates, which are posted on our website.

  • Violence and Conflict at Polling Stations
  • Changes in Voter Identification Rule in 6 percent of Polling Stations.
  • “Bogus Votes”
  • Late Opening of Polling Stations
  • Restrictions on Observers
  • Absenteeism of Polling Officials
  • Army and Paramilitary Forces at Polling Stations
  • Closed Women’s Polling Stations or Booths
  • Restrictions on Polling Agents
  • Unauthorized Persons Inside Polling Stations

FAFEN believes that it is premature to reach a conclusion about the conduct of Pakistan General Elections 2008.  FAFEN will continue to issue more observation reports as the election process proceeds.

About FAFEN: The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) is a coalition of forty leading Pakistani civil society organizations of which thirty were involved in the Election Observation process. It was established in 2006 to observe the election process, educate voters, and advocate for electoral and democratic reform. [www.fafen.org]