NA-123 By-Election Observation Low Turnout, Heavy Police and Fraudulent Voting Observed

ISLAMABAD, March 10, 2010: Low turnout, extremely heavy presence of police and paramilitary forces, campaigning and canvassing by supporters of contesting candidates around polling stations, campaign materials inside and within 100 yards of most polling stations of particularly the PML-N candidate and significantly high incidences of observed fraudulent voting marked the by-election for the NA-123 constituency of the National Assembly [Lahore-VI], reports the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary Report of NA-123 By-Election Observation.

The seat was vacated by Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, who had won the 2008 General Elections by securing 67707 votes. The turnout in the constituency was 33%. As many as 287915 voters are registered in NA-123 — 161102 males and 126813 females. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had set-up 268 polling stations – 133 male, 133 female and 2 combined polling stations.

FAFEN deployed 34 trained observers on Election Day to monitor more than 90 per cent 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 information from 77 polling stations. Some of FAFEN’s key findings include:

 1.    Voter Turnout

According to FAFEN observers reporting from 21 randomly sampled polling stations, the turnout remained 19.6 percent, which was mush lower than the turnout in the general election. FAFEN will release gender disaggregated turnout as part of its detailed report.

2.    Fraudulent Voting

At 24 polling stations, additional counterfoils had been filled on the ballot books whereas 12 polling stations had ballot papers issued without filling the counterfoils, indicating the possibility of fraudulent votes being stuffed in ballot boxes. Similarly, FAFEN observers reported from eight 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 29 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.  

3.   Unauthorized Persons Inside Polling Stations

FAFEN observers reported presence of unauthorized people from more than most observed polling stations. At 74 polling stations, police and other security officials were present inside polling stations and polling booths and at times appeared to have been in control of the electoral process. 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 two polling stations, the police officials were observed to have been persuading people to vote for a particular candidate and at one they were influencing the election officials to favor a certain candidate.

Presence of armed civilians was also reported from four polling stations, of which at two, they were also persuading people to vote for a certain candidate. At 11 polling stations, FAFEN observers said that they had seen individuals belonging to a certain political party wearing campaign badges/symbols of contesting candidates. However, campaign materials, including banners and posters, of particularly the PML-N candidate continued to be displayed in and around almost all observed polling stations whereas the electoral laws clearly task the Presiding officials to remove all campaign materials in a radius of 100 meters around polling stations before the Election Day.

At five polling stations, people who had already voted were present.

FAFEN observers also reported presence of local influential people, government officials, federal and provincial ministers and officials at least 10 polling stations. Some of these unauthorized persons were either canvassing for a particular candidate or influencing the electoral officials to act in a certain way. However, candidates with their armed bodyguards were observed to have visited most polling stations and at three, they were seen canvassing inside the polling stations, which is illegal. Under election laws, only candidates are authorized to visit polling stations. They cannot bring in their bodyguards unless specifically permitted by the returning officer.

4.    Campaigning and Canvassing around Polling Stations

FAFEN observers reported from 56 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. At three polling stations, FAFEN observers reported the presence of armed civilians at party camps. Such display of arms inhibits voters from turning out to vote as well as compel them to vote under pressure.

A certain candidate 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.

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

FAFEN observers reported from 10 polling stations that unauthorized persons and election officials were stamping ballots on behalf of voters. At some polling stations, secrecy screens were affixed in a manner that election officials could view voters stamping their ballots.

Many of the procedural irregularities especially the presence of unauthorized personnel inside polling stations, including security officials, may just be due to lack of training of election staff, who are generally not clear of their authority under the election laws.

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. 

5.   Adequate training of all polling officials must be ensured for all by-elections.

6.  Polling officials should ensure that all campaign materials and camps are removed from around the polling stations.

7.  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.