ISLAMABAD, November 25, 2011: According to the preliminary election observation report of the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), no female voters were seen on Election Day in PK-61 (Kohistan-I), reportedly due to an informal agreement among political parties to prevent women from exercising their right to vote. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) established female polling booths at combined polling stations and appointed female staff to facilitate female voters. However, Pakistan’s Constitution, election law, and international legal obligations also require the Government of Pakistan and the ECP to ensure there are no obstacles (such as illegal informal agreements) preventing eligible female voters from actually exercising their right to vote.
Based on this significant electoral irregularity, and in order to set a clear precedent for serious reform in advance of the next general elections, FAFEN strongly recommends that the election result in PK-61 should be voided and the polling should be re-held. Taking this clear action would signal the ECP’s intention to administer the next elections according to the highest standards of domestic and international law and best practice.
In addition to these concerns, suspicious voting patterns at 14 booths of 13 polling stations and heavy presence of police inside polling stations marked the by-election for the PK-61 constituency of the Provincial Assembly [Kohistan-I], according to FAFEN observers.
The seat was vacated due to the death of Maulvi Obaidullah, Member of the Provincial Assembly, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As many as 84,590 voters are registered in PK-61 Kohistan-I, including 65,786 male voters and 18,804 female. There were 1,597 more voters registered for the by-election as compared to the registered voters for 2008 general election.
The ECP setup 50 combined polling stations. These 50 polling stations had 110 polling booths – 60 male and 50 female.
FAFEN deployed 12 trained observers on Election Day to monitor 78 percent of the polling stations 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.
This preliminary report is based on observation of 39 combined polling stations. Some of FAFEN’s key findings include:
- Suspicious Voting Patterns
There were 14 polling booths at 13 polling stations where FAFEN observers recorded suspicious voting patterns. If the polling is most efficient and each voter is taking approximately a minute and 30 seconds for processing (checking of name, checking of CNIC, issuance of ballot paper, going behind secrecy screen, stamping a ballot and returning of stamp to the assistant presiding officer), there can be approximately 45 votes that can be cast in an hour at a booth. However, the rate of voting was higher than possible at 14 booths of polling stations listed below. The following table gives booth-wise average of polled votes per hour. An average higher than 45 brings into question the speed with which the voters were being processed.
|Sr. No.||Polling Station||Register Voters||PS Type||Average Vote per Hour at Booth 1||Average Vote per Hour at Booth 2||Total Vote Polled at Time||Number of Polling Hours||Number of Booths|
- Voter Turnout
According to FAFEN observers reporting from 10 randomly sampled polling stations, the turnout remained 21.4 percent, which was two percentage points lower than the turnout in the 2008 general election.
- Unauthorized Persons Inside Polling Stations
FAFEN observers reported presence of unauthorized people from at least 37 polling stations. At one polling station frontier constabulary/rangers were present inside the polling station while at 37 polling stations police was present inside the polling stations. 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.
FAFEN observer reports indicate the presence of local influential persons inside one polling station. In addition, at one polling station, people who had already voted were present.
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.
- Campaigning and Canvassing around Polling Stations
FAFEN observers reported from 23 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 as well as compel them to vote under pressure.
- Partisan Election Officials and Breach of Right to Secret Voting
FAFEN observers reported from two polling stations that unauthorized persons were stamping ballots on behalf of voters – Election officials at one polling station and polling agents at one polling station were observed to be stamping the ballot papers. Instances of breach of right to secret voting were observed at one polling station where polling agents were going behind the voting screen to help voters.
Having observed the aforementioned irregularities, FAFEN recommends:
- ECP should ban announcement of results for constituencies where women are prevented from voting in any polling station for any reason. Either the vote counts from those polling stations should be excluded from the compilation of the official result or re-polling should take place in those stations. Based on this long-standing FAFEN recommendation, FAFEN recommends that the result of PK-61 (Kohistan-I) should be voided and the polling should take place again.
- The ECP should ensure that security officials perform only their designated dutyof maintaining law and order outside of polling stations and do not attempt to manage election officials.
- The ECP should reprimand all election officialswho 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 vigilanceand 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.
- 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.
- 6. Adequate training of all polling officialsmust be ensured for all by-elections.
- Polling officials should ensure that all campaign materials and camps are removedfrom 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: 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.