ISLAMABAD: December 1, 2015. (PCP) People in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) went to the polls to elect their local representatives for the first ever local government on November 30, 2015 in a well-managed election that remained peaceful but was characterized by irregularities that continue to prevail due to weaker mechanisms for the enforcement of electoral laws and rules on Election Day. The government decision to not declare November 30, 2015 as a public holiday, unlike other districts where LG elections were held, was controversial and might have kept many people from voting, says Free and Fair Election Network in a press statement on Tuesday.
Considering the smaller scale of election, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) utilized Geographical Information System (GIS) for voters to locate their polling stations via live Google Maps through a dedicated application on its website. This is a step forward towards electoral transparency that needs acknowledgement. Moreover, the polling scheme was made public much ahead of the election schedule. The ECP’s plans to use android technology to capture the images of polling station results from 200 polling stations also needs appreciation and should be seen as its willingness to take major steps towards electoral transparency. However, such measures need to be perfected ahead of General Election 2018 for their introduction throughout the country.
Despite several positives, FAFEN observers documented 743 illegalities and irregularities of various natures at 148 observed polling stations, reinforcing the need for greater powers and authority required by the ECP to hold the erring officials accountable. On an average, at least five violations were reported from each polling station from where information was received on Election Day, which is almost similar to the scale of issues documented in the first two phases of the local government elections in Punjab and Sindh provinces. However, the ECP monitoring was observed to have improved in Islamabad. Presiding officers at 43 percent of observed polling stations reported that some representative of ECP or the Returning Officer had visited through the day for monitoring the quality of the polling process. This percentage was around 30% in the second phase of local government elections in Sindh and Punjab.
Among persistent and glaring illegalities were campaigning and canvassing by political parties and candidates outside polling stations in complete disregard to the legal provision that bars them from such activity within a 200-meter radius of a polling place. Observers reported party camps setup outside 34 percent of observed polling stations, most of which were being used to persuade voters. Voters were reported to have been given slips of their serial numbers on electoral rolls by political parties and candidates at nearly 80 percent of the observed polling stations.
The constitutional right to secret ballot was reported to have been compromised at 12 percent of observed polling stations, where unauthorized persons were observed to be accompanying voters behind secrecy screens. Presiding officers at 23 percent of the observed polling stations said they did not have the polling scheme or they did not show a copy of polling scheme to FAFEN observers. At more than 13 percent of the observed polling stations, one or more voters were turned away because their names were not on the electoral roll.
Incidents of polling agents and polling staff stamping ballot papers were reported from six percent of the observed polling stations. Observers reported presence of unauthorized persons inside more than five percent of the observed polling stations. These unauthorized persons included government officials, bodyguards of candidates, local influential and political leaders.
However, there are certain areas which appeared to have registered improvement. Almost 99 percent of presiding officers said they attended the training and 93 percent were wearing the ECP’s provided badge. Although some presiding officers who were performing duty for the first time complained that the one-day training was not adequate, the training appeared to be more effective in Islamabad as compared to the trainings provided for the second phase of local government election in Sindh and Punjab provinces. At most of the observed polling stations, polling staff was reported to have been filling out the counterfoils while issuing the ballot papers to voters. Similarly, at most of the observed polling stations, Assistant Presiding Officers were observed to have been properly signing and stamping at the back of the ballot papers issued to voters.
Party workers outside two polling stations namely Sarai Kharbooza and Humak informed FAFEN observers that there were local level agreements to bar women from voting. However, FAFEN will conduct follow-up visits to these areas for further information. Most female polling stations were staffed by female polling staff. However, at six percent of the observed polling stations unauthorized men were observed to be loitering in women-only polling stations.
The purpose of this preliminary report is to highlight weaknesses of the electoral processes and practices indicated by FAFEN observation on the Election Day in an effort to improve election management for the third phase of the local government elections in Sindh and Punjab provinces due on December 5, 2015. A detailed report on the quality of the local government elections will be released after completion of the third phase of LG elections in Punjab and Sindh. Findings included in this report are preliminary, and therefore, must not be generalized beyond their scope. At best, they are indicative of persistent electoral illegalities and irregularities that are witnessed in all elections, reflecting ECP’s weak capacity to enforce election laws and Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Contesting Candidates.