ISLAMABAD, May 11, 2013 – Having mobilized more than 41,000 trained and accredited observers for Pakistan’s historic first elections to transition from one elected civilian government to another, Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) offered preliminary information about reports of Election Day violence, irregularities, and political party workers and election officials who prevented FAFEN observers from entering polling stations.
Amid fears of acts of terrorism that could have lowered voter turnout, FAFEN notes a higher turnout than expected across Pakistan, with people queuing up outside polling stations even before polling began at 8:00am. Security arrangements evidently were adequate to deter the Election Day attacks threatened by extremist groups, demonstrating that state security forces could have done more during the campaign period to protect candidates, campaigners and citizens from the bloodiest pre-election period in Pakistan’s history.
Unlike the perception created by media that the elections have been compromised only in Karachi, FAFEN observers are reporting incidences of violence and polling irregularities from across Pakistan. A seemingly weak enforcement of election procedures appears to have compromised Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) resolve, enabling irregularities that have marred the quality of previous elections as well. Consistent and swift ECP action in all polling areas where flagrant violations of election law have been committed and confirmed, including in Karachi, will enhance public confidence in the process.
One example is the announcement of results by media channels an hour before the end of polling, in violation of the ECP Code of Conduct for media and other election regulations. The ECP Secretary mentioned this problem at a press conference on the evening of the election, but the media continued to announce premature vote counts from polling stations. In all polling stations where votes were counted before the end of polling, many voters might have been disenfranchised.
One of many examples of violence against FAFEN observers around the country is in NA-51 Rawalpindi-II where Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) activists have beaten up and verbally threatened both FAFEN observers and their Constituency Supervisor. They are threatening that if their party is not successful in the constituency, they will hold FAFEN observers responsible.
Some problems of election administration have stemmed from weak control of ECP on judicial officers who are assigned to perform election duties. For example, despite timely delivery of sensitive election materials to Returning Officers (ROs) in Karachi, they scandalously delayed dissemination to polling officials. ECP must investigate the role of these ROs in creating a situation that may have discouraged keen voters and undermined ECP authority.
Earlier on Election Day, FAFEN issued a press release in response to reports that women were not being allowed to vote in several constituencies in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP). FAFEN reiterated its strong recommendation that ECP must not certify election results in any National or Provincial Assembly constituency where women in any polling area have been barred from voting.
Meanwhile, more than 500,000 hits on Election Day morning on FAFEN’s dedicated election portal, www.electionpakistan.org disrupted FAFEN’s ability to issue real-time reports, but provided an impressive indication of the national and international attention to Pakistan’s historic General Elections 2013.
FAFEN’s observations and recommendations are made with all due respect for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and for all political parties, candidates and other participants in the election process. FAFEN’s goal is to document its observations for the consideration of voters and all election stakeholders and to make recommendations towards the improvement of these and future elections in Pakistan.
FAFEN’s election observation activities are based on the Constitution and laws of Pakistan as well as global best practice standards for elections. In addition, these General Elections are the first held since Pakistan ratified in 2010 the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), accepting additional legal obligations with respect to all elections. FAFEN observers adhere to the ECP Code of Conduct for National Observers as well as the Global Principles for Non-Partisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organizations (April 2012).
The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), established in 2006, is a coalition of 42 leading civil society organizations working to strengthen all forms of democratic accountabilities in Pakistan. Governed by the Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability (TDEA), FAFEN also implements robust programs in-between elections related to monitoring parliamentary affairs, connecting constituents to their elected representatives, monitoring the performance of public and elected institutions and advocating electoral and democratic reforms.
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