PB-25 By-Election Characterized by Violence, Intimidation

PB-125 by-election was marred by restrictions on observers, women’s right to vote and procedural irregularities. FAFEN has more.

ISLAMABAD, March 10, 2010: Amid heightened tension and multiple armed clashes, by-election for the 25th constituency of the Balochistan Assembly [Jaffarabad-I] was characterized by restrictions on independent observation, widespread incidents of breach of women’s right to vote in secrecy and significant procedural irregularities, reports the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary Report of PB-25 By-Election Observation.

The seat had fallen vacant after the death of Sardar Rustam Khan Jamali (MPA) in a firing incident in Karachi in August 2009. Sardar Rustam Khan had won the 2008 General Elections by securing 15245 votes from the constituency. As many as 140859 voters are registered in PB-25, with 73223 being males and 67636 females. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had set-up 91 polling stations – 30 male, 28 female and 33 combined.

FAFEN deployed 12 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.

FAFEN observers report that the voting took place amid heightened tension between the supporters of Mir Nasir Khan Jamali of PPPP and Sardar Mir Ataullah Khan Buledi, who was an independent candidate. Supporters of these two candidates, many of them armed, also stopped FAFEN observers from entering many polling stations to observe the voting and counting processes.

FAFEN observers reported that the local police under the directives of the DPO (Jaffarabad) arrested 10 supporters of Mr. Buledi an hour after the polling began from various parts of the constituency, heightening the already existing tensions in the constituency. Mr. Buledi called the police move as politically motivated and alleged that the arrests were made at the behest of the PPPP. As a result, the supporters of Mr. Buledi and Mr. Jamali brawled and clashed at many polling stations.

At Combined Polling Station No. 85 in Goth Juma Khan Mari, polling had to be stopped almost for 40 minutes due to exchange of fire between the supporters of the two candidates, leaving four people injured. At Male Polling Station No. 87 in Noushki Jadeed, polling had to be suspended for more than 10 minutes due to an armed clash between the two groups. However, no one was injured. Another incident of exchange of fire took place at polling stations No. 7 for male and No. 8 in Nurpur area.

At most female polling stations and female booths at combined polling stations, FAFEN observers report, men were either stamping ballots themselves or telling the women they were accompanying to vote for a certain candidate. However, at none of these polling stations or booths, the election officials attempted to enforce their magisterial powers to ensure women’s right to secret voting.

This preliminary report is based on information from 18 polling stations – 13 male, four female and one combined polling station. Some of FAFEN’s key findings include:

PB-25 By-Election: Voter Turnout

According to FAFEN observers reporting from nine randomly sampled Polling Stations, the turnout remained between 27.15 percent. FAFEN will release gender disaggregated turnout as part of its detailed report. The following table, however, shows a gender-disaggregated trend of turnout gathered from polling stations until 1400 hours:

Fraudulent Voting

At four polling stations, additional counterfoils had been filled on the ballot books, indicating the possibility of fraudulent votes being stuffed in ballot boxes.

PB-25 By-Election: Illegal Campaigning & Canvassing

FAFEN observers reported from 10 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. Reports also indicate presence of armed civilians roaming around the constituency throughout the day, creating an atmosphere. Such tactics inhibit voters from turning out to vote as well as compel them to vote under pressure.

Presence of unauthorized persons was also reported from at least three polling stations.

Partisan Election Officials & Breach of Right to Secret Voting

FAFEN observers reported from five 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. In most polling stations, voters were allowed to vote with old NICs and/or any identity documents.

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.

PB-25 By-Election: Flaws in Electoral Rolls

FAFEN observers reported from many polling stations that the electoral rolls were flawed or incomplete. Wrong CNIC numbers or other credentials created problems from many voters, many of them were disallowed to vote. Moreover, the supplemental list of voters drawn from 2002 electoral rolls was not furnished at the polling stations, leading to turning away of voters from polling stations.

FAFEN Recommendations

  • Having observed the aforementioned irregularities during the by-election FAFEN recommends:
  • 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 reprimand all election officials who failed to enforce the election rules and laws.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Adequate training of all polling officials 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 by-election administration, by-elections should be minimized by restricting each candidate in general elections to contesting in only one constituency.

About FAFENThe 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.