Low female Turnout, Heavy Presence of Police mark NA-178 by-Election

NA-178 by-election turned out to be an interesting affair as the prime minister too participated in the campaign. FAFEN has all the facts.

ISLAMABAD, May 15, 2010: Low turnout, incidents of fraudulent voting and heavy presence of police and security officials inside polling stations marked the by-election for the NA-178 constituency of the National Assembly [Muzaffargarh-III], reports the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary Report of NA-178 By-Election Observation.

The by-election followed a heated election campaign and canvassing for a candidate by the Prime Minister against the established Code of Conduct for the Political Parties and Contesting Candidates. Some incidents of pre-election violence were also reported, including intimidation of a candidate at the hands of local police.

The seat was vacated due to the resignation by Mr. Jamshed Dasti, who won the 2008 General Elections on a PPP ticket by securing 57,946 votes when the voter turnout remained 48%. As many as 283,523 voters are registered in NA-178 – 165,267 male and 118,256 female. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had set-up 252 polling stations – 56 male, 55 female and 141 combined polling stations. The 252 polling stations had 529 polling booths – 274 male and 255 female.

FAFEN deployed 32 trained observers on Election Day to monitor more than 90 percent of the polling stations set up in the constituency. Observers spent between 45 and 60 minutes in each polling station to document their observations and findings on a standardized checklist that is based on the provisions of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1976, Conduct of Elections Rules 1977 and instructional handbooks that the ECP has provided to election officials.

This preliminary report is based on observation of 0f 32 polling stations – 13 male, 12 female and 7 combined. Some of FAFEN’s key findings include:

NA-178 By-Election: Voter Turnout

According to FAFEN observers reporting from 21 randomly sampled polling stations, the turnout remained 34.47 percent, considerably lower than the turnout in the 2008 general election. The turnout at male polling stations remained 32.1 percent and 24.4 percent at female polling stations. The turnout was highest [44.6 percent] at combined polling stations.

The hour-wise turnout shows that less people turned out to vote earlier in the day. However, the turnout increased as the polling progressed, closing at 34.47 percent at 5 p.m.

Fraudulent Voting

At 9 of 32 observed polling stations [28 percent of observed polling stations], additional counterfoils had been filled on the ballot books whereas at eight polling stations [25 percent of observed polling stations], ballot papers were issued without filling the counterfoils, indicating the possibility of fraudulent votes being stuffed in ballot boxes. Similarly, FAFEN observers reported from 7 polling stations that the numbers of Computerized National Identity Cards of voters as written on the counterfoils of the ballot books did not match the corresponding entries on the electoral rolls, again raising the possibility that fraudulent voting might have taken place. At 4 polling stations, dubious thumb impressions marked on counterfoils of ballot books at the same angle with phasing out ink print were observed. In the case of genuine voters, each thumb impression is marked in fresh, dark ink and may be at varying angles.

Unauthorized persons were observed to have been stamping ballots papers at one polling station.

Unauthorized Persons Inside Polling Stations

FAFEN observers reported presence of unauthorized people including armed civilians, voters who have cast their votes and local influential inside 6 of 32 observed polling stations.

Police and other security officials were present inside 31 polling stations and polling booths and at times appeared to have been in control of the electoral process. Under electoral rules, even at sensitive polling stations, police is only authorized to maintain order outside polling stations in order to ensure smooth polling. They can only enter polling stations or booths when requested by the presiding officer.

NA-178 By-Election: Campaigning & Canvassing 

FAFEN observers reported from 31 polling stations that the workers of contesting candidates were campaigning and canvassing in violation of election laws that bar the same within 400 yards of polling stations. Candidates or their workers were observed to have been persuading voters to vote in their favor at 3 of 32 observed polling stations, while at one polling station, an election official was seen campaigning for a certain candidate.

Candidates or their workers attempted to influence election officials at 2 of 32 observed polling stations. Incidents of violence involving the supporters of three candidates were reported from 3 of 32 observed polling stations.

 FAFEN Recommendations

Having observed the aforementioned irregularities during the by-election, FAFEN recommends

  • The ECP should ensure that security officials perform only their designated duty of maintaining law and order outside of polling stations and do not attempt to manage election officials.
  • The ECP should reprimand all election officials who failed to enforce the election rules and laws.
  • The ECP and all provincial, district, and local election officials should administer each by-election with the same vigilance and attention to enforcing the law and procedures as during any general election. The result of any by-election not administered vigilantly should be voided.
  • To eliminate unauthorized people from being in polling stations:
    • Presiding Officers should be encouraged and provided adequate protections to use their magisterial powers.
    • All polling officials must be required to carry their Government Service Cards to prove their identity on Election Day.
    • Polling officials should ensure that only one polling agent representing each political party – and carrying proper identification from their party – is permitted in each polling booth.
    • Only people carrying proper identifications should be permitted inside polling stations and allowed to vote.
    • Adequate security checks should be performed in order to prevent unauthorized and armed persons in and around polling stations.
    • All polling officials must be required to carry their Government Service Cards to prove their identity on Election Day.
  • Adequate training of all polling officials must be ensured for all by-elections.
  • Polling officials should ensure that all campaign materials and camps are removed from around the polling stations.
  • More generally, given the consistent weaknesses in ECP by-election administration, by-elections should be minimized by restricting each candidate in general elections to contesting in only one constituency.

About FAFEN:The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a coalition of thirty leading Pakistani civil society organizations, was established in 2006 to observe election processes, educate voters, and advocate for electoral and democratic reform.