Sporadic violence, heavy police presence, incidents of fraudulent voting mark Vehari by-Election

Vehari by-election turned out to be a classic example of what is wrong with our election system. FAFEN brings out details in this report.

ISLAMABAD, May 15, 2010: Relatively lower female turnout, heavy presence of police inside and outside polling stations, sporadic violence at polling stations, campaigning and canvassing by supporters of contesting candidates and some incidents of fraudulent voting characterized the by-election for the NA-167 constituency of the National Assembly [Vehari-I], reports the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary Report of NA-167 By-Election Observation.

The seat was vacated due to the resignation by Chaudry Nazir Ahmed Jatt, who won the 2008 General Elections on a PMLQ ticket by securing 65250 votes from the constituency when the turnout remained 44%. As many as 363,091 voters are registered in NA-167 – 196,437 male and 166,654 female. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had set-up 288 polling stations – 101 male, 100 female and 87 combined. The 288 polling stations had 755 polling booths – 401 male and 354 female.

FAFEN deployed 36 trained observers on Election Day to monitor more than 90 percent of the polling stations set up in the constituency. Observers spent between 45 and 60 minutes at 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 preliminary observation reports received from 123 polling stations – 46 male, 41 female and 36 combined. Some of FAFEN’s key findings include

Vehari By-Election: Voter Turnout

According to FAFEN observers reporting from 18 randomly sampled polling stations, the turnout remained 40.78 percent, a little lower than the turnout in the general election. The turnout at male polling stations remained 48.5 percent, combined polling stations 42.4 and 30.6 at female polling stations.

Turnout remained lower in the earlier part of the day. However, it kept on increasing as the polling progressed. The following graph shows the hour-wise, gender-wise turnout.

Fraudulent Voting

At 16 polling stations, additional counterfoils had been filled on the ballot books whereas at one polling station ballot papers were issued without filling the counterfoils, indicating the possibility of fraudulent votes being stuffed in ballot boxes. Similarly, FAFEN observers reported from five 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 six 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.

At two polling stations, FAFEN observers had seen unauthorized persons stamping the ballot papers.

Vehari By-Election: Electoral Rolls

According to FAFEN observers, many new entries on the voter’s lists are without CNIC numbers, raising questions about the identity of voters at observed polling stations. The quality of electoral lists have been deteriorating since February 2008 general elections as the ECP has not updated them annually and the procedure for voter registration under Section 18 of the Electoral Rolls Act, 1974 is not defined.

Unauthorized Persons Inside Polling Stations

FAFEN observers reported presence of unauthorized people from 44 observed polling station. Police and other security officials were present inside 105 polling stations and polling booths and at times appeared to have been in control of the electoral process. 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.

While media reports suggested tension between paramilitary forces and Punjab Police in the constituency, FAFEN observers did not report any deployment of Rangers or FC personnel at polling stations. Polling station security was managed only by police.

FAFEN observers reported that they had seen individuals belonging to various political parties and candidates wearing campaign badges/symbols of contesting candidates inside 26 polling stations. At 11 polling stations, people who had already voted stayed back, creating disorder.

Campaigning and Canvassing around Polling Stations

FAFEN observers reported from 118 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. Candidates or their workers were observed to have been persuading voters in their favor inside three polling stations. Federal ministers, local political leaders and influential were also observed to have been influencing voters inside seven polling stations.

Candidates or their workers were also seen inside three polling stations to have been influencing election officials.

Three candidates had made arrangements for transportation of voters to polling stations. Provision of transportation to voters, which also increases the election expenses manifold, is prohibited under election rules.

Partisan Election Officials and Breach of Right to Secret Voting

FAFEN observers reported from two polling stations that unauthorized person were stamping ballots on behalf of voters.

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.

Vehari By-Election & Violence

FAFEN observers reported incidents of violence from eight polling stations. At polling station number 127 there was an incident of firing involving workers of an independent candidate and PPPP supporters. Polling was stopped for 45 minutes on the orders of an ASI of Elite Force.

Restrictions to FAFEN Observation

FAFEN observers were not allowed to observe the counting of votes at two polling stations.

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:
    1. Presiding Officers should be encouraged and provided adequate protections to use their magisterial powers.
    2. All polling officials must be required to carry their Government Service Cards to prove their identity on Election Day.
    3. 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.
    4. Only people carrying proper identifications should be permitted inside polling stations and allowed to vote.
    5. Adequate security checks should be performed in order to prevent unauthorized and armed persons in and around polling stations.
      f. 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.