Orderly and Peaceful Cantonment Boards LG Elections Register Low Turnout, Fewer Women Candidates & Electoral Irregularities

Controversy-free electoral outcome a positive sign for democratic traditions

ISLAMABAD, September 16, 2021: Around one-third of the registered voters in Pakistan’s cantonment boards went to vote on September 12, 2021 in an election that remained largely peaceful, orderly and free of controversy in an otherwise competitive but highly fragmented political environment. The acceptability of election outcome by all major political contenders without any major reservations is a positive first that will help strengthen democratic traditions in the country.

Although the elections were due in April 2020, the cantonment boards have taken lead among the four provinces and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) to have elected the local governments for the second term under the new LG laws after the passage of the eighteenth constitutional amendment in 2010. This will also set an example for the provinces to hold the long overdue LG elections, which they have been delaying over one pretext or the other.

Elections were held in 205 wards of 39 (of a total of 42) cantonment boards as election were decided unopposed in Cherat, Murree Gallis and Kamra. Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) deployed 120 trained, non-partisan and duly accredited observers to observe electoral processes at 392 polling stations in an effort to generate independent information and analysis about the quality of the electoral processes. According to these observers, the Election Day was efficiently managed and remained largely peaceful and by law, although the incidences of procedural irregularities could have been minimized through greater investments in training of election officials and measures for their effective enforcement. Observers reported an average of seven violations of law, rules and codes of the conduct from each polling station on the Election Day. Although many of these violations were minor in nature, some were serious violations such as illegal campaigning and canvassing around polling stations, bar on legally-accredited observers, instances of breaches of secrecy of voters and few incidents of minor violence.

According to the provisional results released by the Returning Officers (ROs), out of 2,197,441 registered voters in 39 cantonment boards, as many as 699,298 (32 percent) exercised their right to vote. The voter turnout was particularly low in cantonment boards in Sindh (21 percent), while it remained the highest in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (43 percent). The Election Commission oversaw the deployment of government employees on election duties. The Commission deployed 30 District Returning Officers (DROs), 51 Returning Officers (ROs) and 81 Assistant Returning Officers (AROs) for the polls in cantonment boards. As many as 11,650 personnel including Presiding Officers, Assistant Presiding Officers and Polling Officers were deputed for Election Day duties at 1,648 polling stations with 5,001 polling booths.

Though in the recent past, proactive measures have been taken up by the Parliament to encourage greater participation of women in electoral politics, their participation as candidates remained disconcertingly low with only 19 women (one percent) out of 1,499 contesting the cantonment board elections. Of these 19 women candidates, nine contested independently, while three were awarded tickets by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), two by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and one each by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Jamat-e-Islami Pakistan (JIP) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML). Despite Section 206 of the Elections Act, 2017 warranting political parties to ensure a minimum five percent quota for women on elective seats including candidates for the Parliament and Provincial Assemblies, it remains unclear whether and how it may be applied upon for the local government elections.

A little less than two-third of the 1,499 candidates that contested elections on 205 general wards represented 20 political parties, while around one-third of the candidates ran independently. On an average, seven candidates contested in every ward within the cantonment boards of Punjab. This ratio was eight each for Sindh and Balochistan, and five for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. According to data collected by FAFEN observers from the respective ROs, PMLN bagged the largest vote share of approximately 27.7 percent of the polled votes, which was closely followed by PTI with 26.9 percent votes, independents with 20.9 percent, PPP with 6.3 percent and TLP with 6.1 percent of the votes polled.

PTI emerged as largest party in 13 cantonment boards, followed by PMLN in 10, PPP in three, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in two and Awami National Party (ANP) in one. In two cantonment boards, the mandate is equally split between PTI and PMLN, while in the remaining eight cantonment boards, independent candidates figured as the largest party. According to the Cantonments (Amendment) Act, 2015, the directly elected members of the ward will serve as Electoral College for election on reserved seats of women, peasants, workers, youth and non-Muslims.

The party camps were established for campaigning and canvassing outside or around 321 polling stations and distributing voter chits (parchee) with party or candidates’ symbols. FAFEN observers also noted at 181 polling stations that transport services were provided by the contesting candidates to voters. ECP-accredited FAFEN observers were barred from entering at least seven polling stations. Similarly, they were not allowed to observe the counting processes at an additional three polling stations.

FAFEN observers reported 125 instances at 82 polling stations where the voting process was partially disorganized due to overcrowding of voters. As many as 112 instances from 50 polling stations were recorded where voters were turned away as their votes were not registered at the station. In 13 instances from five polling stations, voters were allowed to vote without the possession of an original National Identity Card (NIC), and instead they produced other identity documents. In 18 instances at seven polling stations, contrary to Section 26 of the Elections Act, 2017, the polling staff did not allow the voters to vote because they had an expired NIC. In breach of voters’ privacy, FAFEN observers witnessed at 41 instances that unauthorized persons were accompanying voters behind the secrecy screens, and stamping their ballots on their behalf. At 13 polling stations in six cantonment boards, the polling agents were not provided the copies of statements of the count.

Almost half of the observed polling stations were accessible for the persons with disabilities (PWDs), while 198 polling stations were not wheel-chair friendly as they were either not established on the ground floor or did not have ramps. At 198 polling stations, the election and security staff extended preferential treatment to PWDs by allowing them to enter first. However, there were a few cases reported from 12 polling stations where PWDs were not given any preferential treatment. At 56 polling stations, the Presiding Officers allowed PWD voters to accompany with a person of their choice to facilitate them in marking their ballot; however, at 29 polling stations, the Presiding Officers allowed either the candidate, polling agents, election or security staff to facilitate them.

As part of its observation methodology, FAFEN observers interviewed three voters who came out of the polling stations after casting their ballots to inquire about their satisfaction with the polling process. Observers interviewed a total of 1,197 voters, of which, 1,039 voters in 38 cantonment boards expressed their satisfaction with the polling process, while voters 158 were either indifferent or dissatisfied. Similarly, during the campaign period, FAFEN representatives interviewed a total of 51 contesting candidates in 13 cantonment boards to gauge their level of satisfaction with the electoral operations undertaken by the ECP. With an exception of a few candidates, a majority of them expressed their satisfaction with the process. PTI candidates or its allies in federal and provincial governments were generally satisfied with the overall electoral environment.

On the contrary, nine candidates belonging the opposition parties including PMLN and JI complained about the attitude of the ECP, which they termed as lethargic. As many as three candidates – JI, PPP and an independent – claimed to have filed complaints over the delimitation process, transferring votes from one area to another, and the alleged misuse of administrative and official resources by the treasury lawmakers and ministers of federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments during the election campaign. A majority of the interviewed candidates (45) shared that their opponents were spending beyond the permissible limit of Rs. 200,000 during campaign period. None of the interviewed candidates, however, mentioned any incident of intimidation.

For detailed report, please click the following link: CBLG Elections 2021 – FAFEN Report