NA-218 By-Election: Chronic Irregularities Persist Despite Better Administration

ISLAMABAD, January 18, 2016: Better administrative and security arrangements marked relatively peaceful and low-turnout by-election in NA-218 (Matiari), said FAFEN’s Preliminary Observation Report on Monday.

FAFEN observers documented a total of 454 violations of law, regulations and code of conduct at 139 polling stations observed, averaging 3.3 violations per polling station. This average is lower than the last two by-elections held in Punjab i.e. PP-89 TT Singh with 4.3 violations per polling station and NA-154 Lodhran with 3.5 violations per polling station.

Illegal canvassing around polling stations and provision of transport facility to voters by candidates were among few otherwise common violations that were exceptionally low in NA-218 by-election being supervised by Election Commission’s own officials. However, violations including bar on accredited observers from observing voting and counting processes, presence of unauthorized persons inside polling stations and unavailability of sufficient election material at polling stations continued to persist.

The by-election was necessitated due to the demise of PPPP President Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who had won the seat in General Election 2013 bagging 95,843 votes defeating PML-F’s Abdul Razzaque who was polled 72,266 votes. A total of eight candidates including PPPP’s Makhdoom Saeeduz Zaman were contesting the by-election.

ECP had established a total of 263 polling stations – 44 each for men and women voters and 175 combined – to facilitate a total of 308,398 voters, of which 48% were women and 52% men. The constituency spreads over 30 union councils in three Talukas – Hala, Matiari and Saeedabad. Although the constituency had 19,745 voters – 11,265 men and 8,480 women – new voters for the by-election as compared to the GE 2013, ECP only increased one polling station.

FAFEN trained 70 observers out of which 66 were deployed (50 men and 16 women) to observe Election Day processes at all polling stations of the constituency. Every observer underwent a rigorous training on election laws and procedures. Each observer documented his/her findings on a standardized checklist based on the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1976, Conduct of Elections Rules 1977 and instructional handbooks provided to the election officials by the ECP. This preliminary report is based on the observation of 139 polling stations from where the information could be acquired on the Election Day. The following are some of the major findings from FAFEN Observation:

1. Bar on Observation

FAFEN observers, duly accredited by the ECP, were barred from observing polling processes at five polling stations. At another 11 polling stations, observers were barred from observing the counting processes.

2. Campaigning and Canvassing around Polling Stations

Candidates had established their party camps outside 12% of observed polling stations from where the reports could be received on the Election Day. At 63 percent of these camps, voters were being issued their serial number slips. However, a negligible number of these slips carried party or candidate’s election symbol. Armed civilians were reported to be present at party camps setup around 10 polling stations. Candidates and parties were also seen providing transportation to their voters at eight percent of the observed polling stations. In addition, campaign material was seen displayed inside three polling stations.

3. Polling Station Security

Security officials were not present outside 17% polling stations observed. Legally, security personnel should be deployed at the entrance of each polling station. In 88% of observed polling stations, security officers were found present inside the polling stations.

4.    Pre Voting Processes

At 17% polling stations observed, polling agents of one candidate or the other made objection at the start of voting process. At 26% polling stations, unauthorized persons were found to be present inside polling stations before the polling started.

5. Availability of Critical Election Material

Through interviews with presiding officers, FAFEN observers documented issuance of ballot papers in excess of total registered voters at 11 observed polling stations. At 35 observed polling stations, ballot papers issued were not sufficient in number to cater to all registered voters. The copies of Statement of the Count (Form-XIV) issued by the RO were less than the total number of contesting candidates at 15 polling stations. Similarly, at 22 polling stations, the number of Ballot Account Form (Form-XV) issued by the RO were lesser than the number of contesting candidates. At 11 observed polling stations, at least one secrecy screen per polling booth was not issued. At 61 polling stations, four officially marked ECP seals were not available for every ballot box. Polling schemes were also observed to be unavailable with 25 of the presiding officers posted at different polling stations.

6. Absence and Partisanship of Polling Officials

At nearly nine percent of the observed polling stations, assistant presiding officers were not present on at least one of the booths while at 6 percent polling stations, polling officers were reportedly missing from at least one of the booths during the official time.

At 12 polling stations, a polling official was reported to have stamped the ballot paper on behalf of voters. At four polling stations, polling staff tried to influence the voters’ choice. At 12 polling stations, polling officials could not stop polling agents from stamping ballot papers on behalf of voters. At four polling stations, polling staff could not stop unauthorized persons to accompany voters behind the secrecy screen. At two polling stations, polling officials were seen accompanying voters behind the secrecy screen.

7. Unconducive Environment for Women Voters

Female polling staff was not available at 66 observed polling booths while unauthorized men were seen loitering inside 34 women polling booths causing inconvenience for women voters. At six of these polling booths, women voters were seen turning back without exercising their right to vote.

8.    Suspicious Voting Pattern

There were 13 polling booths at 12 polling stations where FAFEN observers recorded suspicious voting patterns. If the polling is most efficient and each voter is taking approximately a minute and 20 seconds for processing (checking of name, checking of CNIC, filling voter information on counterfoil, issuance of ballot paper, going behind secrecy screen, stamping a ballot and returning of stamp to the assistant presiding officer), there can be approximately 45 votes that can be cast in an hour at a booth. However, the rate of voting was higher than possible at 13 booths of 12 polling stations listed below.

Polling Station No. Polling Station Name Type Average Votes polled per hour at the Booth
Booth 1 Booth 2 Booth 3 Booth 4
55 GBPS Lal Muhammad Chand
(Combined) (P)
Combined                 46                 25
57 GBPS Qasim Bughio (Combined)
Combined                   4                 27                 42                 45
174 GGPS Qasim ji Wasi (Combined) Combined                 53                 21
121 GBPS-Muhammad Ali Turk
Combined                 50                  –
193 GHSS,Palejani (Combined) Combined                 20                 15                 90                 15
222 GBPS Abu Bakar Moroja (Male) Male                 64
48 GBHS Bhanoth Combined                 52                 32
51 GBPS Shah Muhammad Dahri
(Combined) (P)
Combined                 36                 61                 60                 24
95 GBPS- Kot Bhanojo (Combined) Combined                 60                 25
137 GBPS-Abdul Wahid Buriro
Combined                 52                 28
138 GBPS- Zair Pir (Combined) Combined                 48                 28
202 GBPS- Arif Khatian (Combined) Combined                 40                 58

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