Low Turnout, Suspicious Voting and Heavy Police Mark PP-34 By-Election

ISLAMABAD, July 26, 2010: Low turnout, incidences of fraudulent and suspicious voting and heavy presence of police and security officials inside polling stations marked the by-election for the PP-34 constituency of the Provincial Assembly [Sargodha-VII], reports the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary Report of PP-34 By-Election Observation.

The by-election followed a heated election campaign and canvassing by the candidate of the ruling party of Punjab province.

The seat was vacated due to the disqualification of Mr. Rizwan Nowaiz Gill, who won the 2008 General Elections on a PML (N) ticket by securing 19,255 votes when the voter turnout remained 32%. As many as 152,413 voters are registered in PP-34 – 81,911 male and 70,502 female. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had set-up 112 polling stations – 58 male, 54 female polling stations. The 112 polling stations had 353 polling booths – 188 male and 165 female.

FAFEN deployed 14-trained observers on Election Day to monitor all 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.

As many as three polling stations were not established in proper buildings. Polling Station 108, according to polling scheme, was to be established at Boys Primary School Sultanabad but it was established in a roadside tent. The Presiding Officer of this female polling station told FAFEN Observers that decision to change the location of polling station was taken a few hours before the polling started as she herself had ensured the arrangements of polling at notified place on the eve of polling day. The Presiding Officer told that security officials had cited the refusal of Pakistan Air Force Air Base authorities to use their premises as a reason behind this shift.

Two polling stations (88 and 89), one female and male each, were notified to be set up in tents near PAF Hospitals. The makeshift polling stations were in pathetic conditions and were observed to be without power supply and proper furniture. The chairs provided to the polling station were not enough for even the polling staff.

A state minister and some Punjab MPAs were frequently seen moving in the constituency on Election Day. At polling station 112, an ex-MPA entered the premises forcibly despite police effort to stop him. At polling station 34, some female PMLN workers protested when they found names of some voters missing from voters list. The Presiding Officer had to call police to get troubling workers out of the premises.

The presiding officer of polling station 22 did not allow the FAFEN Observer to observe the counting process.

This preliminary report is based on observation of 79 polling stations – 39 male and 42 female. Some of FAFEN’s key findings include:

  1. Suspicious Voting Pattern

There were four polling stations where FAFEN observers recorded suspicious voter turnout. If the polling is most efficient and each voter is taking a minute and a half for processing (checking of name, checking of CNIC, issuance of ballot paper and stamping a ballot), there can be 45 votes that can be cast in an hour at a booth. However, the rate of voting was higher than possible at two polling stations. At Polling Station 109, 49 votes were cast at Booth No. 3 before 9 am at an average of 49 per hour. At Polling Station 17, 210 votes were cast at Booth No. 3 by 12 pm at an average of 52.5 votes per hour.

At two polling stations, the voting rate was suspiciously higher. At Polling Station 74, 119 votes were cast before 9 am at an average of 39 votes per hour per booth. At Polling Station 111, 291 votes were cast by 11 am, at an average of 24.23 votes per booth per hour.

  1. Voter Turnout

According to FAFEN observers reporting from 14 randomly selected polling stations, the turnout remained 26.64% — 28.8% at male polling stations and 22.1% at female polling stations. The turnout was lower than the turnout in the general election. FAFEN will release gender-disaggregated turnout as part of its detailed report.

  1. Fraudulent Voting

FAFEN observers reported from four 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, raising the possibility of fraudulent voting.

At one polling station, additional counterfoils had been filled on ballot books whereas at another polling station ballot papers were issued without filling the counterfoils, indicating again the possibility of fraudulent votes being stuffed in ballot boxes. Similarly, At one polling station, 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.

  1. Unauthorized Persons Inside Polling Stations

FAFEN observers reported presence of unauthorized people at 21 observed polling station. At 77 polling stations, police and other security officials were present inside polling stations and polling booths. Many presiding officers said that security officers were present inside the premises of polling stations without their permission. 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.

At eight polling stations, FAFEN observers reported that they had seen individuals belonging to a certain political party wearing campaign badges/symbols of contesting candidates. At nine polling stations, people who had already voted were present. Candidates and their supporters were observed to have been canvassing inside polling stations, which is illegal. Under election laws, only candidates are authorized to visit polling stations.

Candidates and their workers were observed to have been influencing election officials at two polling stations. At another polling station, an influential person was reported to have been trying to influence the polling staff. Candidates and influential persons were seen influencing the police officials at three polling stations.

  1. Campaigning and Canvassing around Polling Stations

FAFEN observers reported from 76 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. Three candidates, one of PMLN and two independents had made elaborate arrangements for transportation of voters to polling stations. Provision of transportation to voters is also prohibited under election, which also increases the election expenses manifold.

  1. Violence

FAFEN observers reported one minor incident of violence from a polling station. At polling station 62, supporters of PMLN and an independent candidate quarreled over the distribution of lunch boxes among voters.

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 reprimand all election officials who failed to enforce the election rules and laws.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  1. Adequate training of all polling officials must be ensured for all by-elections.
  2. Polling officials should ensure that all campaign materials and camps are removed from around the polling stations.
  3. 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.