More than 59,000 women voters were not allowed to vote in PK-87 Shangla-l by-election held on January 29, 2011. Women voters were disenfranchised as per accord among all the contesting political parties and candidates at 14 female polling stations and 69 combined polling stations, according to FAFEN’s report on by-election observation.
Of 145,854 registered voters in the constituency, 59,177 were women (41%) and 86677 (59%) were men, indicating a lower registration of women in proportion to population of eligible voters. The ECP had notified 126 polling booths – 97 for female voters and 126 for male voters – to be set up at 102 polling stations in the constituency. Of 102 polling stations, 14 were designated for female voters, 19 for male voters and 69 for both male and female voters.
The ban on women voting was reinforced by election officials deputed at the polling stations who did not set up female polling booths despite having been notified by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in the Polling Scheme for the constituency.
FAFEN calls upon the ECP to probe into the widespread incidents of barring women from voting in the PK-87 by-election. Even if re-polling is not held in the whole constituency, re-polling must be ordered in polling stations where women were barred from voting. Similarly, the gazette notification of result should be withheld until re-polling is held on polling stations, where women voters were barred from voting.
FAFEN deployed 13 trained observers on Election Day to monitor 72% 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.
Besides a ban on women voters, the election was characterized by suspicious voting patterns at many polling stations and heavy presence of police inside the polling stations, says preliminary report released by the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN). Police presence was observed at 59 polling stations out of the 73 monitored stations.
The seat had fallen vacant due to the death of Mr. Muhammad Zahir Shah Khan (Member of Provincial Assembly), who won the 2008 General Elections on a PML ticket by securing 11,510 votes when the voter turnout remained 26.51%. There were 237 more voters registered for the by-election as compared to the registered voters for 2008 general election.
This preliminary report is based on observation of 73 polling stations – 14 male, eight female and 51 combined. Some of FAFEN’s key findings include:
- Fraudulent Voting
At 15 polling stations, FAFEN observers reported that additional counterfoils were filled before issuing the ballot paper. In addition, at four polling stations, ballot papers were issued without filling the counterfoils, indicating the possibility of fraudulent votes being stuffed in ballot boxes. Similarly, FAFEN observers reported from one polling station 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 eight polling stations, dubious thumb impressions were marked on counterfoils (of ballot books) at the same angle with phasing out ink print. In case of genuine voters, each thumb impression is marked in fresh, dark ink and may be at varying angles.
- Unauthorized Persons inside Polling Stations
FAFEN observers reported presence of party workers at six polling stations, voters who had already cast their votes at seven polling stations, local influential persons at six polling stations, government officials at one polling station while a candidate with his bodyguards was observed to be present at one polling station. Some of the unauthorized persons present inside polling stations were trying to influence the voters, election staff, and police.
- Campaigning and Canvassing around Polling Stations
FAFEN observers reported from 61 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. Armed civilians were also observed to have been present at party camps around four polling stations. Such display of arms inhibits voters from turning out to vote and also compels them to vote under pressure.
FAFEN observers reported one minor incident of violence outside polling station no. 79.
Having observed the aforementioned irregularities during the by-election, FAFEN recommends:
- The ECP should probe into the widespread incidents of barring women from voting in the PK-87 by-election. Even if re-polling is not held in the whole constituency, re-polling must be ordered in polling stations where women were barred from voting.
- The gazette notification of the result of by-election should be withheld until re-polling is held on polling stations, where women voters were barred from voting.
- The ECP should reprimand all election officials who failed to enforce the election rules and laws, and especially those working at polling stations where women were not permitted to vote.
- The ECP and all provincial, district, and local election officials should administer each by-election with the same vigilance and attention to enforce the law and procedures as during any general election. The result of any by-election not administered vigilantly and according to set standards should be declared void.
- The ECP should reprimand all election officials who failed to enforce the election rules and laws.
- To eliminate the presence of unauthorized people in polling stations:
- Presiding Officers should be encouraged and provided adequate protection 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 the presence of unauthorized and armed persons in and around polling stations.
- 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 FAFEN: The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a coalition of 35 leading Pakistani civil society organizations, was established in 2006 to observe election processes, educate voters, and advocate for electoral and democratic reform.