What kept half of voters away from polling?

ISLAMABAD .: Out of the 105.9 million registered voters in Pakistan, about 54.6 million voted in the last week’s general election, highlighting several factors including mistrust and lack of awareness that kept almost half of the voters (51.3 million) away from the electoral process.

The voter turnout for the National Assembly at July 25 polls was 51.7%. At provincial level, Punjab led with 55% turnout followed by 47.6% in Sindh; 45.5% in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and 45.2% in Balochistan.

According to data of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the voter turnout at the 1970 general election, the first to be held on ‘one-man-one-vote’ formula, was 63%, the highest ever in election history of Pakistan.

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The voter turnout at the 1988 general election was 42%. It remained 46% in 1990; 39% in 1993; 35% in 1997; 40% in 2002; 44% in 2008; 55% in 2013 and now 51.7% in 2018. The figures at provincial level are also not so encouraging.

Background discussion with the ECP officials and voters suggest several factors that stopped people from voting for any candidates.

Mistrust of system

One of the major factors include trust deficit of voters on the political system. The Free and Fair Election Network’s (Fafen) General Secretary Sarwar Bari said the mistrust of voters on the system is one of the major aspects keeping voters away from ballot box.

“We assessed this factor in 2013 elections and the trust deficit turned out one of the major causes for this practice. Voters believe that voting for the same faces (in new parties) is a futile practice,” he said.

A senior ECP official, who wished to remain anonymous, also termed mistrust of the existing system as a leading cause for absence of voters in good numbers.

“As per our assessment many people who stay away from electoral process believe that the existing system is flawed and does not deliver according to their expectations,” he said.

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Social hindrances

Bari said another major reason is social in nature as in many areas women are not allowed or encouraged to cast vote. In the recent election 58% of males voted but the number of women who voted was only 48% women which clearly depicts gender disparity of 10%, he added.

He said their reports suggest that about 36% of young women are not registered with the ECP, depicting a social taboo. “If there were a culture of registration of the dead and the newborns, the number of registered voters could shrink,” he added.

Administrative glitches

About 45,000 Pakistanis had left for Hajj till the voting day was one of the factors that led to minimise turnout. Similarly, a large number of voters had duties in schools and other areas and majority of them did not cast vote because they had not transferred their vote or were away from their constituency.

The ECP issued about 1.6 million postal ballots to returning officers (ROs) across the country but it was only to be utilised by the government officials away from their constituencies. The result of those ballots has yet to be announced by the ECP.

Power of vote

Many voters also tend to ignore voting as they believe it would not make any essential difference.

Afnan Qureshi, a watchman at the Accountant General of Pakistan, was also among those who did not vote on July 25. When asked, he said it did not matter if he voted or not. “These people are already rich. Why would they care about us? It is useless to vote and hope for change,” he said.

“As per our assessment most of the people who stay away from electoral process think the existing system is flawed and does not deliver as they expect,” said the ECP official.

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‘None of the Above’

The Indian Supreme Court in 2013 directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to have an option of None of the Above (Nota) on the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and ballot papers.

Several other developed and developing countries like Colombia, Ukraine, Brazil, Bangladesh, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Chile and France also allow their voters to cast ‘Nota’ votes or express their rejection.

But in Pakistan there is no such option, though in 2013 the ECP forwarded the summary about ‘Nota’ to the parliament but it was out immediately rejected.

Thus another major reason the people avoid voting may be that they consider all the candidates in their constituency not up to the mark. Other factors include inefficiency of political parties which fail to woo voters to the polling.

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    Original news : https://tribune.com.pk/story/1769840/1-kept-half-voters-away-polling/