–FAFEN says 2018 polls better than those held in 2013, EU observers say ‘overall election results are credible’
LAHORE: While the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) on Friday published an initial assessment report on the General Election 2018, declaring this year’s election better than the elections of 2013, the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission has said that the results were “credible” but criticized a “lack of equality” in the contest.
In its preliminary report, FAFEN said that “despite issues with the Result Transmission System (RTS) set in place by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) … FAFEN acknowledges significant improvements in the quality of critical electoral processes in the election cycle.”
The network said that more than half of Pakistan’s registered voters went to the polls on July 25, 2018.
According to FAFEN, voter turnout remained 53.3 percent and the highest turnout of voters was in Punjab, where 59 percent of registered voters went to the polls in 127 National Assembly constituencies.
In Islamabad the turnout was 58.2 percent, 47.7 percent was observed in 52 in Sindh, 43.6 percent in KP and FATA and 39.6 percent in Balochistan.
The network also observed that male turnout was 58.3 percent, more than 10 percent higher than the female turnout that remained 47 percent.
The network said that it deployed a total of 19,683 observers — 13,819 men and 5,846 women — “to oversee voting and counting processes at 72,089 polling stations in the 270 National Assembly constituencies”.
The network says that “the election day was better managed and the scale of procedural irregularities during the voting process was relatively low”.
It was also observed that polling was conducted uninterrupted at the majority of polling stations, with reports from 1,450 of 37,001 polling stations suggesting that “the polling process was chaotic due to overcrowding and slow processing of voters.”
FAFEN said, “This issue was reported almost in equal numbers from all types of polling stations.”
MOST PEACEFUL ELECTION DAY:
According to FAFEN, the election day was “better managed.” It was observed that the day was “relatively peaceful and free of any major controversy until late night concerns emerged over the transparency of the counting process, and the subsequent slow process of the announcement of provisional results prompted some political parties to reject the election results.”
The network commended the ECP for the deployment of 371,000 armed forces personnel on election duties, “despite questions from some political parties, ECP ensured the peaceful conduct of polls amid heightened threats of subversive acts.”
“With massive deployment of armed forces alongside police and other law enforcement agencies, people felt reassured and came out to vote in large numbers,” the network observed while adding that security forces were performing their responsibilities inside and outside more than 35,000 polling stations.
With regard to voter registration, FAFEN said that “a particular focus on increasing women enrollment on electoral rolls, and greater diligence in following legally defined principles in delimitation and effective enforcement of campaign rules, the ECP 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 election commission clearly led to dividends,” FAFEN admitted, while adding that the ECP oversaw “an unprecedented deployment of government employees on election duties. For the first time, the Commission deployed 849 independent Returning Officers for all National and Provincial Assembly constituencies, which initially caused some procedural issues, such as in the finalisation of polling schemes, but were timely addressed by the ECP.”
“The election commission is expected to allay the concerns of major political parties over the 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” the network pointed out.
According to the network, “It does not augur well for the election commission to reject the concerns of major political parties without conducting an enquiry into the matter, as otherwise the country may spiral into phase of political and public protest and outcry that inhibits political stability”.
LACK OF EQUAL OPPORTUNITY:
Separately, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM), which had appointed observers for the July 25 elections, said that although “there were several legal provisions aimed at ensuring a level playing field, there was a lack of equality of opportunity” provided to the contesting parties.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, EU Chief Observer Michael Gahler, while releasing the EU EOM’s preliminary statement on the election, said, “Despite positive changes to the legal framework with the new Elections Act, and a stronger and more transparent Election Commission, we consider that the electoral process of 2018 was negatively affected by the political environment.”
“Candidates with large political appeal and financial means, the so-called “electables” were reported to often dominate the campaign. Uneven rules on campaign spending further undermined candidates’ equal opportunity,” the EU EOM observed.
However, the Mission generally praised the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) role in the conduct of the elections.
According to the statement, over 120 EU observers oversaw “the opening, voting, counting and tabulation processes at 582 polling stations and tabulation centres in 113 constituencies of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Islamabad.”
The Mission also noted in its preliminary statement that the election day was orderly, “with a preliminary turnout of 52 percent” despite “two deadly attacks on polling stations in Balochistan, and regional clashes between party supporters”.
Commenting on the Result Transmission System (RTS) system, the EU EOM acknowledged that result submission from polling stations was severely delayed as the tabulation system “encountered serious technical problems”.
The Mission also noted that returning officers were, “not able to receive original result forms and report in a timely manner to the ECP on the progress of results.”
The report mentioned that the ECP explained that “the RTS had not been tested in Pakistan before and thus failed to meet the legal deadline to announce provisional results received via RMS by 2:00.”
This also resulted in “petitions to higher courts relating to candidacy resulted in delayed printing of ballot papers in some 100 constituencies.”
ROLE OF SECURITY FORCES:
The Mission said that “a number of violent attacks, targeting political parties, party leaders, candidates and election officials, affected the campaign environment.”
The EU observers also “noted the presence of security personnel inside and outside the polling stations in the polling stations observed. At times, they checked voter ID cards and directed voters to the right queue.”
Another interesting observation made in the preliminary statement says that security force officials “recorded and transmitted the results, giving the impression of an ongoing parallel tabulation.
“The elections took place against a background of allegations of interference in the electoral process by the military-led establishment and the role of the judiciary as a political actor,” the preliminary report from the Mission said, adding that in Pakistan media outlets and journalists “suffer from severe restrictions and curtailment on freedom of expression, which has resulted in extraordinary levels of self-censorship.”
The EU EOM also observed that “the electorally sensitive timing, as well as the content of decisions of courts investigating or adjudicating on matters related to high-profile Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) candidates were perceived by several stakeholders as an indication of the politicisation of the judiciary.”
“These cases reshaped the political environment ahead of the elections,” the mission clearly stated in their preliminary report, echoing concerns from local observers and journalists regarding the lead-up to the polling process.
According to the Mission, “Most interlocutors acknowledged a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates.”
In spite of all of his criticism, Gahler said the election results that gave Imran Khan a win were credible.
“Over all the election results are credible,” he said.