Low turnout, heavy police presence mark by-election

ISLAMABAD, April 26, 2012: People came out in lower number to vote in the by-election for a Punjab Assembly seat (PP-194) in Multan on Thursday.

The seat fell vacant after Shahid Mahmood Khan resigned as MPA. He won the seat in 2008 general elections on a Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) ticket by securing 24,450 votes as the voter turnout was 28.5%.  According of FAFEN’s data collected from 15 randomly selected polling stations, the turnout for this by-election went down to 21%.

As many as 188,234 – male (100,912) and female (87,322) – voters are registered in this urban constituency of Multan district. In comparison to the 195,317 voters listed on the electoral roll used for the General Elections in 2008, a total of 7,083 less voters appeared on the voter list used for this by-election.

Though voters showed less interest and appeared in lesser numbers to the polling stations, the police officials remained present inside the premises of majority of the observed polling stations in clear violation of election laws. Similarly, supporters of contesting candidates and parties continued to illegally canvass and campaign outside the polling stations.

Moreover, the contesting candidates had made elaborate arrangements for assisting the voters to travel to the polling stations. Additionally, government vehicles with green number plates were found to be roaming around in the constituency for the entire day.

FAFEN observers reported a number of violations by the police, election staff, polling agents and supporters of the candidates, however if compared with previous by-elections held lately, relatively fewer procedural irregularities were observed indicating improvement in the training of election staff by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The ECP had set-up 134 polling stations – 68 male and 66 female polling stations. The 134 polling stations had 412 polling booths – 224 male and 188 female.

FAFEN deployed 27 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 98 polling stations – 54 male and 44 female.

Some of FAFEN’s key findings include:  

1.   Voter Turnout

According to FAFEN observers reporting from 15 randomly sampled polling stations, the turnout was 21.15% percent, which was lower than the turnout in the general election. The turnout at male polling stations was recorded at 22 percent and 20.2 percent at female polling stations.

2.   Fraudulent Voting

At two 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 three 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 two 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. Additionally, at three polling stations, FAFEN observers reported that additional counterfoils were filled.

3.   Unauthorized Persons Inside Polling Stations

At 67 polling stations, police was present inside polling stations. Under electoral rules, even at sensitive polling stations, police is only authorized to maintain order outside polling stations to ensure smooth polling. They can only enter polling stations or booths when requested by the presiding officer.

At 19 polling stations, FAFEN observers reported that they had seen individuals belonging to contesting political parties wearing campaign badges/symbols of contesting candidates. In addition, at six polling stations, people who had already voted were present, while presence of a government official was noted at one polling station.

4.   Campaigning and Canvassing around Polling Stations

FAFEN observers reported from 85 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.

5.   Partisan Election Officials and Breach of Right to Secret Voting

FAFEN observers reported from two polling stations that unauthorized persons were stamping ballots on behalf of voters while at one polling station a polling agent was observed to stamp the ballot paper.

Instances of breach of right to secret voting were observed at seven polling stations where unauthorized persons were going behind the voting screen to assist voters – polling agents at two polling stations and other unauthorized persons at five polling stations.

FAFEN Recommendations

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

  1. 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.
  2. The ECP should take disciplinary action against polling station officials who interfered with and influenced the voting process.
  3. The ECP should reprimand all election officials who failed to enforce the election rules and laws.
  4. 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.
  5. To eliminate unauthorized people from being in polling stations:
    1. Presiding Officers should be encouraged and provided adequate protections to use their magisterial powers.
    2. All polling officials must be required to carry their Government Service Cards to prove their identity on Election Day.
    3. 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.
    4. Only people carrying proper identifications should be permitted inside polling stations and allowed to vote.
    5. Adequate security checks should be performed in order to prevent unauthorized and armed persons in and around polling stations.
    6. All polling officials must be required to carry their Government Service Cards to prove their identity on Election Day.
  6. Adequate training of all polling officials must be ensured for all by-elections.
  7. Polling officials should ensure that all campaign materials and camps are removed from around the polling stations. 
  8. 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: FAFEN is a network of 42 civil society organizations working to foster democratic accountabilities in Pakistan. It is governed by the Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability.