According to the preliminary election observation report of the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), no female voters were seen on Election Day in PK-61 (Kohistan-I), reportedly due to an informal agreement among political parties to prevent women from exercising their right to vote.
According to a press release issued by Fafen here on Saturday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) established female polling booths at combined polling stations and appointed female staff to facilitate female voters.
However, Pakistan’s Constitution, election law, and international legal obligations also require the Government of Pakistan and the ECP to ensure there are no obstacles (such as illegal informal agreements) preventing female from actually exercising their right to vote.
Based on the significant electoral irregularity, and in order to set a clear precedent for serious reform in advance of the next general elections, Fafen strongly recommends that the election result in PK-61 should be voided and the polling should be re-held.
Taking this clear action would signal the ECP’s intention to administer the next elections according to the highest standards of domestic and international law and best practice.
In addition, suspicious voting patterns at 14 booths of 13 polling stations and heavy presence of police inside polling stations marked the by-election for the PK-61 constituency of the Provincial Assembly (Kohistan-I), according to Fafen observers.
The seat was vacated due to the death of Maulvi Obaidullah, Member of the Provincial Assembly, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
As many as 84,590 voters are registered in PK-61 Kohistan-I, including 65,786 male voters and 18,804 female.
There were 1,597 more voters registered for the by-election as compared to the registered voters for 2008 general election.
The ECP setup 50 combined polling stations had 110 polling booths – 60 male and 50 female.
Fafen deployed 12 trained observers on Election Day to monitor 78 percent of the polling stations in the constituency.
Observers spent between 45 and 60 minutes in each polling station to document their observations and findings on a standardised checklist that is based on the provisions of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1976, Conduct of Elections Rules 1977, and instructional handbooks that the ECP has provided to election officials.
The preliminary report is based on observation of 39 combined polling stations.
Some of Fafen ‘s key findings include, Suspicious Voting Patterns, Voter Turnout, Unauthorised Persons inside Polling Stations.
It added in the press release that if the polling is most efficient and each voter is taking approximately a minute and 30 seconds for processing (checking of name, checking of CNIC, issuance of ballot paper, going behind secrecy screen, stamping a ballot and returning of stamp to the assistant presiding officer), there can be approximately 45 votes that can be cast in an hour at a booth.
However, the rate of voting was higher than possible at 14 booths of polling stations in the area.
Fafen observer reports indicate the presence of local influential persons inside one polling station.
In addition, at one polling station, people who had already voted were present.
Many of the procedural irregularities especially the presence of unauthorised personnel inside polling stations, including security officials, may just be due to lack of training of election staff, who are generally not clear of their authority under the election laws.
The recommendations added that the ECP should ensure that security officials perform only their designated duty of maintaining law and order outside of polling stations and do not attempt to manage election officials.
The ECP should reprimand all election officials who failed to enforce the election rules and laws.
Besides, the ECP and all provincial, district, and local election officials should administer each by-election with the same vigilance and attention to enforcing the law and procedures as during any general election.
The result of any by-election not administered vigilantly should be voided.
To eliminate unauthorised people from being in polling stations; Presiding Officers should be encouraged and provided adequate protections to use their magisterial powers.
All polling officials must be required to carry their Government Service Cards to prove their identity on Election Day.
Source: Business Recorder