KARACHI : Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a network of more than 50 domestic civil society organisations, has said that the polling day was better managed and relatively peaceful until concerns emerged over the counting process and slow announcement of provisional results in the 2018 general elections.
More than half of Pakistan’s registered voters went to the polls to mark the second consecutive democratic transition of power, which cleared any uncertainties over the future of democracy, the election watchdog said in its preliminary election observation report on Friday.
The election campaign was long-drawn and competitive, in an extremely polarised political environment punctuated by a spate of terrorist attacks.
Despite issues with the Result Transmission System (RTS) set in place by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to meet the requirements of the new Election Law 2017, Fafen acknowledged significant improvements in the quality of critical electoral processes that inspired greater public confidence.
The ECP tried its best to improve voter registration, with a particular focus on increasing women enrollment on electoral rolls, as well as, a greater diligence in following legally defined principles in delimitation and effective enforcement of campaign rules.
The election commission appeared to be more assertive in its attempt to deliver an improved quality of election. The electoral reforms that strengthened the country’s election framework and granted expanded powers to the ECP clearly led to dividends.
However, the commission is expected to allay concerns of major political parties over integrity of results counting, tabulation and consolidation processes by employing its expanded powers to discipline and penalise officials and institutions that are found to be responsible for the technological failure that compromised its otherwise demonstrable successes in ensuring a better quality election.
“It does not augur well for the ECP to reject the concerns of major political parties (PPPP, PML-N, NP, MMA, ANP, PSP, MQM, without conducting a probe into the matter, as otherwise the country may spiral into phase of political and public protest and outcry that inhibits political stability,” read the report.
The ECP oversaw an unprecedented deployment of government employees on election duties. For the first time, the commission deployed independent Returning Officers for all national and provincial assembly constituencies, which initially caused some procedural issues, such as finalisation of polling schemes, but were timely addressed by the commission.
“As many as 811,491 personnel to be deputed for Election Day duties were trained to perform functions as presiding officers, assistant presiding officers and polling officers at 85,317 polling stations with 242,088 polling booths that were setup in 272 National and 577 Provincial Assembly constituencies,” the report further read.
Deployment of as many as 371,000 armed forces personnel on election duties, despite questions from some political parties, ensured the peaceful conduct of election day amid heightened threats of subversive acts.
With massive deployment of armed forces alongside police and other law enforcement agencies, citizens felt reassured and came out to vote in large numbers.
Except for the unfortunate deaths of 31 people in a blast outside a polling station in Quetta and a killing of one political party worker in an armed clash with rivals in Swabi, election day only witnessed a few minor incidents of verbal or physical brawls that were contained by the security forces.
The voting process on the election day generally remained smooth. However, Fafen observers reported at least one instance of procedural irregularity at one-third of 37,001 polling stations, from where observation reports have been received.
Many of these irregularities however may not have a material effect on the election outcome.
Nevertheless, the election commission will do well to continue to strengthen its enforcement of electoral law and regulations by ensuring greater diligence by polling officials deployed for election duties.
According to the Fafen assessment of provisional results of the count (Forms 47) of 241 National Assembly constituencies as announced by the election commission, the voter turnout remained 53.3 per cent.
The highest turnout of voters was witnessed in Punjab, where 59 per cent of registered voters went to the polls in 127 National Assembly constituencies, for which provisional results were available.
Interestingly, 35 National Assembly constituencies with a close race has rejected votes greater than the margin of victory – 24 in Punjab, six in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, four in Sindh and one in Balochistan.
It is essential for Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure that the Returning Officers diligently review the ballots excluded from the count at the polling station level in these constituencies during the consolidation proceedings, the election watchdog suggested.
There are at least two National Assembly constituencies where, according to the provisional result, the women’s voter turnout was below 10 per cent of the polled votes – NA-10 (Shangla) and NA-48 (North Waziristan Agency).
Under the provisions of the new Elections Act, where the turnout is below 10 per cent of the polled votes after the consolidation of results, the election commission has the power to declare the elections in these constituencies null and void and to conduct a re-poll in one or more polling stations or the entire constituency.
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