Fafen declares election 2018 ‘better than 2013’
ISLAMABAD: Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has claimed that voter turnout stood at 53.3 percent while long queues of voters were witnessed at polling stations during the general election 2018. The FAFEN, a non-governmental organization (NGO), Friday issued a report declaring the general election 2018 better than general election of 2013.
According to the FAFEN assessment of provisional results of the count (forms 47) of the 241 National Assembly constituencies as announced by the Election Commission, the voter turnout remained 53.3 percent. There are at least two National Assembly constituencies where, according to the provisional results, the women voters’ turnout was below 10 percent of the polled votes – NA-10 (Shangla) and NA-48 (North Waziristan Agency).
The highest turnout of voters was observed in Punjab, where 59 percent of registered voters went to the polling stations to cast their votes in the 127 National Assembly constituencies, for which provisional results are available. In all three National Assembly constituencies of Islamabad, the turnout was 58.2 percent, followed by 47.7 percent in 52 National Assembly constituencies in Sindh, 43.6 percent in 50 National Assembly constituencies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (including Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and 39.6 percent in nine National Assembly constituencies in Balochistan.
The male turnout in these 241 constituencies was 58.3 percent, more than 10 percent higher than the female turnout that remained 47 percent. In absolute number, 49.48 million voters in these 241 constituencies exercised their right to vote as against 46.9 million who voted in general election 2013. The turnout may vary slightly when the Election Commission provides the final consolidated results that include postal ballots of all 270 constituencies and also final determination on ballot papers rejected from the count at the polling station-level on July 25.
Interestingly, 35 National Assembly constituencies with a close race have number of 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 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.
According to the preliminary findings by the FAFEN observers, the Election Day was better managed and the scale of procedural irregularities during the voting process was relatively low. The polling was conducted uninterrupted at the majority of polling stations with FAFEN observers reporting from 1,450 of 37,001 polling stations that the polling process was chaotic due to overcrowding and slow processing by voters. This issue was reported almost in equal numbers from all types of polling stations (male, female and combined). A majority of such cases was reported from the 815 polling stations in 133 constituencies in Punjab. At another 1,690 polling stations, voting was interrupted due to breaks primarily for prayers and food. A majority of these polling stations were in 135 constituencies in Punjab, followed by 357 polling stations in 47 constituencies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 251 in 59 constituencies in Sindh, 83 in 14 constituencies in Balochistan and 17 in three constituencies in Islamabad.
The FAFEN observers reported that at least one instance of registered voters being turned away by the polling staff despite having their CNICs. Such instances were reported from 193 polling stations in Punjab, 99 in Sindh, 31 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 12 in Islamabad and nine in Balochistan. Polling staff strictly adhered to the legal requirement of allowing only those voters to cast their ballots that were in possession of their original CNIC. However, the FAFEN observers reported that at least one instance of voters being allowed to vote who did not have their CNICs but were carrying other identity documents (such as a colored copy of NIC, passport, etc.) at the 401 polling stations – 260 in Punjab, 68 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 61 in Sindh, nine in Islamabad and three in Balochistan.
Weak accountability of legal responsibilities of polling staff has also allowed some other irregularities to persist in election. For example, the FAFEN observers reported at least one instance of polling staff, polling agents or unauthorized persons inside polling stations such as persons who have already cast their vote influencing voters by signaling towards a specific candidate/party or asking the voters about their voting choice at 1,571 of 37,001 observed the polling stations.
Similarly, despite categorical guidelines by the Election Commission that are adequately covered in the handbooks provided to the presiding officers, the presence of unauthorized persons at the polling stations also remained a persistent issue in most elections that the FAFEN has observed. The FAFEN observers reported the presence of unauthorized persons at the 235 polling stations across Pakistan. At 163 polling stations, these unauthorized persons were also influencing the polling staff.
The security personnel were observed at 1,335 polling stations attempting to stop polling agents from any irregularity instead of informing the presiding officers as required by their code of conduct. Although reported from a small fraction of the 37,001 polling stations observed, such practices indicate the need for greater investments in the training of security staff to ensure uniformity in the enforcement of electoral laws and regulations.
While the Election Commission has made a concession to political parties to set up their camps beyond a radius of 100 meters outside polling stations in urban areas as against the 400 meters requirement specified in the Elections Act, 2017, there was strict prohibition on the campaigning material of political parties inside any polling station.
The presiding officers are legally required to remove any such material before the start of polling. However, the FAFEN observers spotted campaigning materials inside 1,539 polling stations – 968 in Punjab, 281 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 213 in Sindh, 46 in Balochistan and 31 in Islamabad. Despite a ban on polling agents exhibiting or wearing anything containing their political party symbol, flag and/or picture of the candidate, the practice appeared to be common across the country undeterred. The political party symbols or flags were generally printed on voter chits bearing the serial number on electoral rolls and electoral block code of voters.