ISLAMABAD, August 23, 2013: Citizens’ interest appeared to have dwindled in an otherwise peaceful and better managed by-election, notwithstanding procedural irregularities, that took place in 15 national and 26 provincial constituencies under a more assertive Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its preliminary election observation report on Friday.
Although FAFEN observers reported incidents of violation of the Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Contesting Candidates and electoral procedures, the ECP appeared to be more in control as it took several remedying measures to improve the process. The ECP action followed by the Peshawar High Court order of re-polling in areas where women were barred from voting was unprecedented and will help protect women’s electoral rights in future elections. Similarly, ECP’s prompt instructions to Returning Officers to allow media to enter and cover voting process inside the polling stations reinforced the Commission’s resolve to electoral transparency.
The major factor for a better election process has been ECP’s complete control over officials drawn from judiciary and executive who were assisting the Commission in the conduct of the election. With Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, who is a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, the head of the Commission, the judicial officials, who were performing the duties of the District Returning Officers and Returning Officers, worked according to the ECP’s instructions unlike the General Elections where their posturing was independent raising public and political criticism about their conduct.
The presence of security forces including Army and Rangers, who were also vested with magisterial powers, inside and outside polling stations provided adequate deterrence against rigging and fraudulent voting, raising the quality of the voting and counting processes. The efficacy of the deterrent is established also by FAFEN observer reports that suggest that code and procedural violations outside the polling stations such as camps and canvassing and transportation to voters, way surpassed the ones reported from inside the polling stations.
The by-election experience only establishes FAFEN’s earlier position and recommendations for long-term reforms that require absolute control of ECP on all electoral processes and Commission’s complete insulation from judicial and executive influences. Moreover, the Presiding Officers selected from preferably federal departments in higher grades for an effective polling station management will be a prerequisite for improved polling station management as they are the only enforcement arm of the ECP on the Election Day.
The by-election has provided a template for ensuring quality of election process to both ECP and the political parties, which should be used to develop agenda for electoral reforms. However, ECP still needs to improve regulatory frameworks and invest in the training of election officials to minimize the irregularities that take place on the Election Day and continue to raise questions about ECP’s capacity to enforce law. Further upgradation and empowerment of the office of the District Election Commissioner and their direct role in the election management will be instrumental in enhancing ECP’s enforcement capacity.
Below are the findings from the observation reports of FAFEN observers deputed in 15 National Assembly constituencies:
Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) focused its observation on the 15 National Assembly constituencies where trained, ECP-accredited and non-partisan citizens were deployed. FAFEN observers observe almost 80% of 3,864 polling stations established in these 15 constituencies for coverage. The detailed observation report will cover the findings from all observed polling stations, however, this report compiled from shorter version of observation forms collected from observers at 2 pm in all constituencies covers data collected from 1,455 polling stations- 493 male, 400 female and 562 combined.
The observers spent between 45 and 60 minutes in each polling station to document their observations and findings on a standardized checklist 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 report includes observers’ reports from 136 polling stations of NA-1 Peshawar-I, 129 of NA-5 Nowshera-I, 71 of NA-13 Swabi-II, 64 of NA-27 Lakki Marwat, 157 of NA-48 Islamabad-I, 94 of NA-71 Mianwali-I, 160 of NA-83 Faisalabad-IX, 100 of NA-103 Hafizabad-II, 115 of NA-177 Muzaffargarh-II, 79 of NA-235 Sanghar-II, 97 of NA-237 Thatta-I , 70 of NA-254 Karachi XVI and 25 of NA-262 Killa Abdullah.
FAFEN observers in Lahore (NA-129) were not given accreditation cards and were hence unable to observe the polling process. However, they continued their observation outside the polling stations and were able to observe 50 violations, second only to Muzaffargarh (NA-177) where 67 violations were recorded.
- Restrictions on Observation
There were 63 instances in which the non-partisan trained observers deployed by FAFEN were denied entry into polling stations. These observers were denied entry despite being fully accredited by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and possessing the required identification documents.
There were 22 polling stations (PS) in Karachi-XVI (NA-254) where FAFEN observers were denied entry. Army officials denied FAFEN observers entry to 15 polling stations (PS-46, PS-74, PS-75, PS-84, PS-85, PS-86, PS-91, PS-92, PS-137, PS-138, PS-175, PS-176, PS-177, PS-178 and PS-179), followed by the police who did not allow access to observers at four polling stations (PS 64, 65, 66, and 141), Rangers did so at two polling stations (PS 31 and 45), and one presiding officer at PS-143.
In Peshawar-I (NA-1), FAFEN observers were denied entry to 15 polling stations. In 12 of these polling stations, police officials did not let FAFEN observers inside (PS-19, PS-21, PS-41, PS-97, PS-106, PS-108, PS-117, PS-119, PS-121, PS-132, PS-138 and PS-152). Rangers stopped FAFEN observers from entering two polling stations (PS-140 and PS-150), followed by the army (PS-158).
In Sanghar-II (NA-235), FAFEN observers were denied access to 11 polling stations. The army barred access to seven polling stations (PS-54, PS-56, PS-57, PS-78, PS-79, PS-88 and PS-186), while political workers denied observers access to four polling stations (PS-73, PS-90, PS-92 and PS-93).
In Faisalabad-IX (NA-83), FAFEN observers were denied access to five polling stations, four by the police (PS-96, PS-97, PS-98 and PS-102) and one by the army (PS-93).
In Swabi-II (NA-13), observers were not allowed access by the police to four polling stations (PS-41, PS-42, PS-43 and PS-44). There were three polling stations in Islamabad-I (PS-28, PS-29 and PS-228) where FAFEN observers were not allowed to enter. Lakki Marwat (NA-27), Hafizabad-II (NA-103), and Muzaffargarh-II (NA-177) each had one polling station where FAFEN observers were denied entry by the army.
In 10 instances, FAFEN observers were allowed inside polling stations but were barred from visiting the booths. Five of these instances were in Peshawar-I (PS-217, PS-219 and PS-200 by the army, while PS-216 and PS-218 by the police). There were four polling stations in Karachi-XVI where observers were disallowed from observing polling booths (PS- 113, PS-114, PS-115 and PS-116, all by the army). One FAFEN observer was also disallowed from visiting a polling booth in polling station 150 in Muzaffargarh-II by the army.
- Incidents of Violence and Disruptions in the Polling Process
FAFEN observers recorded 24 incidents of electoral violence in seven constituencies. FAFEN observers recorded a clash in Polling Station 58 of Sanghar-I (NA-235) over the issue of barring minority voters from polling.
In another incident, a clash between PTI and ANP workers resulted in suspension of polling for nearly two hours in Polling Station 94 in Peshawar-I. The police baton charged the clashing groups to resolve the dispute and allow polling to resume.
Furthermore, a clash between PTI and PML-N workers resulted in suspension of polling for 75 minutes in PS-88 in Mianwali (NA-71). FAFEN observers also recorded another clash between polling agents in PS 208 in the same constituency.
One of the observers reported seeing a clash between women voters and media persons in PS-157 in Lahore-XII (NA-129).
In Muzaffargarh-II (NA-177), four incidents of violence were observed. Unidentified persons opened fire on a vehicle carrying supporters of an independent candidate near PS-4. FAFEN observers in PS-285 and PS-279 saw polling agents fighting amongst themselves. Another FAFEN observer reported seeing PML-N workers threaten the police in PS-104.
In Sargodha-V (NA-68), two cases of violence were reported. A FAFEN observer saw polling agents brawling at PS-20. The second incident involved a brawl between two religious groups at PS-257.
Two incidents of violence were observed in Hafizabad-II (NA-103): one was a brawl between party workers at PS-72, while another observer reported seeing voters in a brawl with the police in PS-63.
In Killa Abdullah (NA-262), FAFEN observer recorded a clash between ANP and PkMAP polling agents at PS-17. Also, unidentified people were seen clashing outside PS-106. The FAFEN observer deployed at the same polling station was beaten up by people identifying themselves as JUI-F workers.
FAFEN observers recorded another 50 instances where the polling process was stopped for certain periods of time. Twenty-four of these disruptions were on account of tea breaks, 20 lunch breaks and five prayer breaks. In Mianwali-I (NA-71), polling at a combined polling station (PS-64) at Government Boys’ High School, Kamar Mashani was disrupted for 15 minutes when female voters started to protest for unknown reason.
Constituency-wise, Swabi-II (NA-13) had the highest number of breaks at 21 polling stations- 16 of these were under the pretext of tea and the remaining five for lunch. FAFEN observers recorded five breaks in the polling process each in Peshawar-I (three lunch breaks and two prayer breaks) and Lakki Marwat (four lunch breaks and one tea break).
- Polling arrangements not according to ECP Polling Scheme
FAFEN observers noted 92 instances where polling arrangements were not in accordance with the ECP polling scheme. Observers found 51 polling stations that were not established as per the polling scheme finalized by the ECP. Fifteen of these deviations were observed in Faisalabad-IX (NA-83), followed by Peshawar-I and Swabi-II with 10 each. In 41 instances, polling booths were mentioned in the polling scheme but were not actually established.
- Stamping of Ballot Papers by Others
FAFEN observers recorded 16 cases where irrelevant persons or polling officials were found involved in stamping ballot papers. Three polling officials in NA-1 (Peshawar-1) were seen stamping ballot papers. Another 10 polling officials in NA-13 (Swabi-11) were also seen doing the same.
In Lakki Marwat (NA-27), a polling agent was seen stamping ballot papers. FAFEN observers also saw two unidentified persons stamping ballots in Sargodha-V and Mianwali-I. The following table lists the numbers of the polling stations and their types where such violations were recorded.
- Interference by Security Officials
Army and police officials who do not undergo any training on polling process were seen trying to discipline the voters and staff at 57 polling stations, working beyond their mandate of ensuring security and acting on the instructions of Presiding Officers. The police officials were found interfering in the process in 33 cases while the army was found interfering in the remaining 24 instances.
The most instances of interferences by security personnel were recorded in Peshawar – 13 by the army and 10 by the police. Islamabad witnessed nine cases of interference – five by army and four by police. The interference by security officials should not be confused with tempering with the polling process.
Having observed the aforementioned irregularities during the by-election, FAFEN recommends:
The ECP should have absolute control over the electoral process and complete insulation from judicial and executive influences:
- 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 take disciplinary action against polling station officials who interfered with and influenced the voting process.
- The ECP should reprimand all election officials who failed to enforce the election rules and laws.
- To eliminate unauthorized people from being in polling stations:
- There should be no change in polling scheme after it is notified.
- 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.
- The result on polling stations reporting ban on women voting should be withheld and a re-poll should be ensured.
- 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.
- Adequate training of all polling officials and security officials performing election duty 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’s by-election administration, by-elections should be minimized by restricting each candidate in general elections to contesting in only one constituency.
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