ISLAMABAD, April 28, 2016: A low turnout of voters was witnessed in NA-267 Jhal Magsi-cum-Kachhi by-election on Thursday held amid tightened security and relatively better control of election administration over Election Day campaigning and canvassing in and around polling stations.
Although election administration was improved on many counts, the presiding officers’ control over security officials did not register any improvement. FAFEN observers were arbitrarily barred from entering the premises of polling stations by the security officials at 14 polling stations despite the fact that ECP had duly accredited them.
FAFEN observers recorded a total of 263 violations at 55 polling stations averaging 4.7 violations of laws, rules and codes of conduct for political parties and candidates at each polling station. This average is relatively higher than the recent by-elections held in Sindh and Punjab. Among violations, as many as nine serious deviations from polling schemes were observed during by-election.
FAFEN’s estimates suggested a voter turnout of 20% by midday, however, the voting trend indicated that the turnout was unlikely to go beyond 33% by the end of polling. FAFEN mobilized a total of 39 observers to observe the election-day processes at all 165 polling stations setup by the ECP. However, this report contains information from 55 observed polling stations- 37 combined, 7 male and 11 female- the data from which was available promptly.
Although the number of voters have registered an average increase of six percent from GE 2013 in all constituencies. However, there was a negligible increase in the number of voters for by-election in NA-267. The number of registered voters for NA-267 by-election 2016 was 148,058 – 88,789 male and 59,269 female –compared to 147,642 in General Election 2013 which showed 0.28% increase in the number of registered voters while same number of 165 polling stations (23 male, 23 female and 119 combined) were set up with 374 polling booths (200 male booths and 174 female booths) for the by-election 2016.
The by-election was necessitated after Supreme Court upheld the Election Tribunal’s verdict of disqualification of PMLN’s Khalid Magsi on February 03, 2016. Mr. Magsi was declared returned from the constituency as independent candidate in GE 2013 when he secured 42,240 votes against another independent contender Abdul Raheem Rind who could bag 38,915 votes.
A predominantly rural area, NA-267 comprises Jhal Magsi and Bolan districts of Balochistan. The area is mostly inhabited by Rind and Raisani tribes. However, the Magsi, Satakzai, Kurd and Bangulzai tribes are also settled in the area. Traditionally, tribal affiliations have driven voting behaviours, with the Rind tribe being particularly important following the migration of a large number of Raisanis to Mastung.
A total of 13 candidates were in run for the by-election 2016 where eight candidates were independent and the remaining five represented Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), National Party (NP), Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and Jamote Qaumi Movement (JQM). However, the real contest was between PMLN and PTI candidates. Veteran politician Sardar Yar Muhammad Rind was a PTI candidate while PMLN fielded the ousted Khalid Magsi as its candidate.
FAFEN observers were required to spend at least an hour at each polling station and document their findings on a standardized checklist based on the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1976, Conduct of Elections Rules 1977 and instructional handbooks provided to the election officials by the ECP. Following are some key findings of observation:
Pre-voting Process and Availability of Critical Material: A total of 24 polling stations were observed at the opening where polling agents raised objections on the beginning procedures of the polling at three polling stations while at two polling stations unauthorized persons were seen loitering inside the stations.
The election staff did not have adequate number of statement of the count forms (Form XIV) at 10 polling stations and ballot account form (form XV) at 27 polling stations. The election staff is required to carry these forms in adequate quantity to provide copies to polling agents of all the candidates for the sake of transparency.
Change in Polling Scheme: At nine polling stations, the census block assigned to voters were not in sync with the official polling scheme. Resultantly, voters from 20 polling booths were observed to be turning back without voting.
Campaigning and Canvassing: ECP enforced the law and rules by not allowing candidates and parties to establish camps within the limits of polling stations. However, camps were witnessed around 11 polling stations. Candidates and supporters reportedly provided transport to the voters at 15 polling stations. Party posters and flags were observed to be displayed inside four polling stations while promotional materials of political parties was observed to have been removed from all but three polling stations. As compared to general practice, campaigning and canvassing in NA-267 was relatively curtailed and controlled.
The practice of candidates and parties providing vote vouchers with party symbols were also found not common as voters with such vouchers were observed at just 17 polling booths. The incidence of persuasion of voters by influential persons was observed at just one polling station.
Polling Station Security and Bar on Observers: FAFEN observers were barred from observing the voting processes at 14 polling stations. The restriction came only from security officials who refused to permit the observers despite the ECP’s Accreditation Cards.
Such lapses occur due to the lack of proper protocols for the training of security personnel, creating for space of their own interpretation of election laws. At eight observed polling stations, security personnel said they were not given any training prior to their deployment, indicating at the need for defined ECP training protocols for security officials.
Security officials were present inside and outside all polling stations.
Breach of secrecy: At seven polling booths, polling staff was observed to be stamping ballots on behalf of voters. At another two polling booths, polling agents were allowed to stamp on behalf of voters.
At three polling booths, polling staff was observed to be accompanying voters behind secrecy screen. At another two polling booths, other voters were seen going behind secrecy screen with the voters.
Training and Monitoring of Election Staff: A total of six presiding officers told observers that they did not get any training for the conduct of by-election. Out of 55 presiding officers interviewed, 22 were performing their duty for the first time. ECP’s internal monitoring teams could not reach 45 observed polling stations.
Women Voting: At 23 of the observed female booths, male staff was deployed. Of these, at two booths, some women did not vote due to the presence of male staff. At one polling stations, female voters were observed to be turning back without exercising their right to vote.