Restrictions on Observation, Police Interference and Violence Mark Low Turnout By-Elections

Restrictions on Observation, Police Interference and Violence Mark Low Turnout By-Elections

  • Incidents of Bar on Female Voting in Mardan and Mianwali
  • 194,255 Less Voters on New Rolls in 10 Constituencies
  • FAFEN Observer Shot in the Neck in Mardan

ISLAMABAD, February 25, 2012: Restrictions by police and election officials on FAFEN observation, errors in new electoral rolls, interference of police in electoral matters, incidents of violence and procedural irregularities underlined the relatively low turnout by-elections in 10 national and provincial constituencies held on February 25, 2012, said Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary By-Election Observation Report. FAFEN will release its detailed report on February 27, 2012.

By-elections were held in six National Assembly constituencies – NA-9 (Mardan-I), NA-140 (Kasur-III), NA-148 (Multan-1), NA-149 (Multan-II), NA-168 (Vehari-II) and NA-195 (Rahim Yar Khan-IV) – and four Provincial Assembly constituencies – PP-18 (Attock-IV), PP-44 (Mianwali-II), PS-57 (Badin-I) and PS-53 (Tando Muhammad Khan-Cum-Hyderabad). Election for NA-9, NA-140, NA-148, NA-149, NA-195, PP-18 and PP-57 was necessitated after the resignation of members elected in 2008 general elections from their seats and for NA-168, PP-44 and PS-53 after the death of elected members.

Saturday’s electoral exercise, a year before the general elections are due, witnessed a low turnout that remained less than 30 percent as compared to general elections when turnout in these constituencies remained 43.3%. Female turned out in lower numbers than men. In NA-9 (Mardan) and PS-44 (Mianwali), females were barred from voting in several polling stations. The turnout remained highest in NA-140 (Kasur) at more than 50 percent where FAFEN documented suspicious voting patterns at 16 polling stations.

FAFEN deployed 380 trained observers for the observation of by-elections. Observers spent between 45 and 60 minutes in each polling station to document their observations and findings on a standardized checklist based on the provisions of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1976, Conduct of Elections Rules 1977, and instructional handbooks the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has provided to election officials.

Although ECP had accredited the FAFEN observers and permitted them to observe all aspects of Election Day processes, police and election officials either disallowed them from entering the polling stations in more than 40 polling stations of 10 constituencies or restricted them from observing some critical processes such as counting of votes. At many polling stations, such restrictions were put up by police who were working independently of the elections officials. In other instances, election officials ordered FAFEN observers to leave following instructions from the contesting candidates or their henchmen such as in PS No. 199 in NA-149.

The Returning Officer refused permission to FAFEN personnel to observe the counting process in at least four polling stations in PP-18 (Attock). Processes of consolidation of results at the Offices of the Returning Officers were completely blocked from observers’ access. In one of the Multan constituencies, army cordoned off the RO office where consolidation of votes was taking place, keeping observers and media a hundred yards away.

This trend in the election year is disturbing as it indicates at the weak authority of the instructions of the ECP at the polling stations level, weakening the integrity and transparency of the electoral processes. Efforts by ECP to strengthen electoral transparency can only translate into action when it is given complete supervision of the government officials deployed for election duty.

The ECP’s revised voter lists prepared in haste for the by-election constituencies to abide by the Supreme Court’s directions skipping the statutory requirement of displaying them for public scrutiny before finalization also created issues for voters. Many people could not find their names on the lists and were turned away. In some cases, not all members of households, who were enlisted as voters on 2008 lists, were registered on new rolls. In NA-168 (Vehari), names of unverified voters were deleted but the eligible voters were not added to the new lists. Similar issues were indicated in NA-148 and NA-149 (Multan). More women than men were affected by this error.

The total number of voters in these constituencies also collectively decreased from 2,543,451 in 2008 to 2,384,156 in lists prepared for 2012 by-elections. The constituency-wise comparison is given below:

Sr. No. Constituency Registered Voters in 2008 Registered Voters in 2012 Difference Status
1 NA-9 262,042 250,459 -11,583 Decrease
2 NA-140 230,446 214,852 -15,594 Decrease
3 NA-148 344,896 338,007 -6,889 Decrease
4 NA-149 427,253 402,621 -24,632 Decrease
5 NA-168 313,416 316,132 2,716 Increase
6 NA-195 335,006 270,763 -64,243 Decrease
7 PP-18 197,730 195,971 -1,759 Decrease
8 PP-44 169,794 184,558 14,764 Increase
9 PS-53 145,550 113,314 -32,236 Decrease
10 PS-57 117,318 97,479 -19,839 Decrease

Incidents of violence were reported from more than 30 polling stations in all by-election constituencies. Firing, scuffles and brawls left more than eight persons injured in these incidents. Violence was reported at Polling Station Nos. 13, 14 and 169 in NA-168; PS Nos. 42, 162 and 198 in NA-140; PS Nos. 82, 68, 142, 213, 199 and 288 in NA-149; PS Nos. 131, 146 and 97 in NA-9, PS No. 57 in PS-57; and PS Nos. 1 and 17 in NA-195.

In one incident in NA-9 (Mardan), one FAFEN observer was shot in his neck by unidentified men as he was walking away from a polling station after observing the polling process. The observer has been hospitalized and is in stable condition. In another incident in NA-149 (Multan), a female observer was intimidated by police and other men outside a polling station. In her effort to run away, she fell and sustained injuries.

In all by-election constituencies, security officials were present inside the polling stations and booths. Under electoral rules, even at sensitive polling stations, police are only authorized to maintain order outside polling stations to ensure smooth polling. They can only enter polling stations or booths when requested by the presiding officer. However, FAFEN observed that these police officials were transgressing their authority and at times taking decisions that are the prerogative of the presiding officer such as allowing access to observers inside polling stations. Such heavy presence of police inside polling stations undermines the authority of elections officials and creates a perception that security forces are managing the electoral exercise.

Although it appeared the ECP invested more resources in the training of election officials and provided them necessary handbooks and materials, procedural irregularities such as presence of unauthorized persons, including armed men, inside polling stations and booths, non-compliance with legal procedures to process voters such as calling out their names aloud to enable all polling agents to hear, breach of voters’ right to vote in secrecy, allowing political party workers and agents to manage the polling process, etc. were rampant. Such irregularities coupled with relatively inactive and untrained polling agents in a polling station create conducive environment for fraudulent voting.

FAFEN Recommendations

  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. The ECP should withhold the results in constituencies where females are barred from voting.
  5. 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.
  6. Adequate training of all polling officials must be ensured for all by-elections.
  7. Polling officials should ensure that all campaign materials and camps are removed from around the polling stations.
  8. 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: FAFEN is a network of 42 civil society organizations working to foster democratic accountabilities in Pakistan. It is governed by the Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability.