Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) established a total of 63,860 polling stations for the Local Government elections 2015 that were held in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Sindh. FAFEN was able to observe 14,050 (22 percent) of these polling stations – 8,318 in Punjab, 3,212 in Sindh, 2,334 in KP and 186 in ICT. The observers recorded 139,127 irregularities and illegalities in the observed polling stations – averaging 10 violations per polling station. The scope of observation was divided into themes and distinct indicators. The key findings from the observations are listed below:
Pre-voting processes include setting up the polling station and fulfilling legal requirements in the outset. FAFEN observers reported 2,971 violations from 2,898 polling stations averaging one violation per polling station where pre-voting process was observed.
Looking at the details of the reported incidents, four percent reports were related to delay in opening of the polling stations. There were 1.4 percent polling stations where one or more polling officials were not seen to be present at the commencement of polling while party agents were not present at 1.5 percent polling stations. Empty ballot boxes were not shown to the party agents before sealing them at around 1 percent polling stations. Polling agents raised different objections on opening process at 4.4 percent polling stations.
Furthermore, unauthorized persons were reported to be present inside five percent polling stations before the start of polling. Region-wise, three percent polling stations in ICT were not set up according to the polling scheme while locations of one percent polling stations each in Sindh and Punjab differed from the polling scheme. Seven percent of the observed polling stations in ICT, three percent in Punjab and eight percent in Sindh did not follow the official opening timings. In ICT, polling agents raised objection in 14 percent polling stations, while the same reports were received from four percent polling stations both in Sindh and Punjab. In 12 percent of the total polling stations observed in ICT, unauthorized persons were present in the polling stations before the start of polling. The same violation was observed in five percent polling stations each in Sindh and Punjab.
Availability of Critical Election Material
Availability of election material such as ballot books, ballot boxes, secrecy screens, stamps and ink pad along with important documents like voters’ list and polling schemes are absolutely critical for carrying out the electoral process and facilitate voters in legally prescribed manner. If any of these materials or documents is missing from the polling station, it might lead to problems during the balloting processing and create suspicion over the transparency of process. FAFEN observers reported 1,276 incidents of insufficient availability of critical materials with election staff from 2,898 polling stations. While overwhelming majority of polling stations did not lack critical election material, a critical election document i.e. polling scheme was missing from 18 percent of observed polling stations.
Region-wise, the Presiding Officers at seven percent polling stations in Punjab and 11 percent polling stations in Sindh told FAFEN observers that they did not have a polling scheme at the polling station. In ICT, 19 percent polling stations did not have the same. In Sindh, three percent of the observed polling stations did not have voter lists, however no such cases were reported from Punjab and ICT. Similarly, two percent polling stations in Sindh did not have ballot books available in required number, however no such violation was observed in Punjab and ICT. One percent polling stations in Punjab and two percent polling stations in Sindh did not have secrecy screens for every polling booth.
No data could be received from KP in this regard.
Polling Station Security
Local government elections are sensitive occasion due to direct stakes of community members and involvement of citizens, therefore, stringent security measures are absolutely critical in ensuring that political contestation does not result in any untoward incident. However, security arrangements at polling stations remained one of the major concerns on Election Day where presence of unauthorized individuals and lack of security arrangements were reported by FAFEN in election observation.
FAFEN recorded 17,625 incidents of breach in security at polling stations that implies 1.25 violations recorded, on an average, at each polling station observed. Overall, a look at the details of these incidents reveals presence of armed civilians inside the party camps established outside 15 percent polling stations. The security personnel were not present outside three percent observed polling stations. Voters were not subjected to security check by the security at entrance of 58 percent polling stations while security officers were not checking the voters’ CNICs before letting them enter at 73 percent polling stations.
Among some glaring violations by region, 11 percent polling stations in Punjab, as many in KP, 14 percent in ICT and 26 percent in Sindh were observed to have armed civilians present inside the party camps established around polling station premises.
Security personnel were observed to be present inside 77 percent of the observed polling stations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 81 percent in ICT, 84 percent in Punjab and 85 percent in Sindh while they were permitted or requisitioned by the Presiding Officers in only seven percent of the observed polling stations in KP, 12 percent in ICT, six percent in Punjab and nine percent in Sindh.
Campaigning, Canvassing, Persuasion and Influencing
Election laws and ECP’s Code of Conduct for Contesting Candidates and Political Parties set some limits that have to be abided by candidates and their supporters during the conduct of election. One such limit is prohibition from establishing election camps in the radius of 200 meters of polling stations.
FAFEN observers reported 20,682 irregularities relating to campaigning, canvassing and illegal persuasion of voters from inside and around 14,050 polling stations where FAFEN observers were deployed. Average number of violations against this indicator was as high as 1.5 violation per polling station. Party camps were illegally established within 200-yards of 24 percent polling stations.
Political workers were seen illegally persuading voters to vote for their candidates in 13 percent observed polling stations while serial number slips were being issued to the voters from party camps at around 11 percent of observed polling stations.
Campaign material was seen displayed on the boundary walls of 13 percent polling stations, while eight percent polling stations had campaign material displayed inside them. Furthermore, individuals wearing party symbols were seen to be present inside 26 percent polling stations. Parties and candidates were providing transportation facility to the voters at 19 percent polling stations.
Security officials were seen persuading voters to vote in favor of a particular party or candidate at 0.7 percent polling stations while armed persons were doing so at 1.1 percent polling stations.
Similarly, influential persons were observed to be indulging in voter persuasion at 3 percent polling stations, and candidates or their supporters were persuading voters at eight percent of the observed polling stations. Additionally, political leaders were reported to be persuading voters at three percent polling stations.
A regional look at these incidents reveals provision of transport facility to voters by candidates and parties at 22 percent polling stations in ICT, 25 percent in Punjab and 20 percent in Sindh.
Unauthorized Persons Present Inside the Polling Stations
Section 31 of the Representation of the People Act 1976, clearly states that no one except the polling officials, contesting candidates or their agents and/or a person permitted by the Returning Officer can be present inside the polling station. However, FAFEN observers reported the presence of unauthorized individuals inside the polling stations on the Election Day.
Observers reported 3,156 such cases from observed polling stations. The details reveal that candidates were present with their bodyguards inside eight percent polling stations – four percent each in Sindh and Punjab, six percent in KP and one percent in ICT. Similarly, political leaders were seen with their bodyguards inside one percent polling stations, federal and provincial ministers were found to be present inside 0.34 percent, and government officials were reported to be present inside eight percent polling stations.
Training of Polling Officials
Polling officials’ training is absolutely imperative in order to ensure that the electoral processes are carried out in manners prescribed by law. However, FAFEN observers reported 1,821 cases where polling officials told that they did not attend or were not provided training prior to elections. The highest number of such cases were reported from Sindh where polling staff at 20 percent polling stations shared with the observers that they had undergone no training from ECP. Similarly, polling staff at 16 percent polling stations in Punjab and 12 percent polling stations in ICT were untrained.
No relevant data could be retrieved from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in this regard.
Irregularities in Ballot Processing
FAFEN observers reported 10,146 cases of irregularities in ballot processing from 40,729 polling booths located across the four regions where local government elections were held in The highest number of irregularities in this area were reported from Islamabad Capital Territory where 10% such cases were seen, followed by seven percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, three percent in Sindh and two percent in Punjab.
CNIC numbers written on counterfoils were different from those given on the electoral rolls on two percent polling booths. Assistant Presiding Officers (APO) at two percent of the polling booths did not stamp the counterfoils while at one percent they did not sign the counterfoils. Similarly, at one percent polling booths, APOs did not sign the back of each ballot paper. At 12% polling booths ballot papers were issued from ballot book without filling out the counterfoils.
FAFEN observers reported 11,919 cases related to women voting from the 18,213 observed female polling booths, of which 15% were in Sindh, and eight percent each in Punjab and ICT.
According to the reports, female staff was not present at eight percent female polling booths resulting in female voters turning back without voting at three percent polling booths. Presence of unauthorized persons was observed at five percent female polling booths.
No separate arrangements were made for female voters at 52% of the observed 15,545 combined polling stations.
Voters Turned Away
Voters registered at some other polling station visited wrong polling booths on 2,829 occasions. Nearly eleven percent of these polling stations visited by voters registered at some other polling stations were in ICT, ten percent in Sindh and eight percent in Punjab. Such confusions are often the result of voters’ list not being displayed outside the polling stations and unavailability of polling scheme with the Presiding Officers. Last minute changes in polling scheme and changes in historic locations of polling stations may also contribute towards confusion among voters, which may lead to disenfranchisement.
Breach of Secrecy
Secrecy of ballot is a constitutional right of every voter. However, there was widespread breach of this right as 10,045 cases were witnessed in this regard during local government elections. Region wise breakdown shows that 22% violations were reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa followed by 13% in Punjab, 12% in Sindh and four percent in ICT.
Details reveal that secrecy screens at three percent polling stations were not placed properly while voters were not going behind the secrecy screens at 57% polling stations to stamp their ballots.
FAFEN observers reported that Polling officials were seen to be accompanying the voters behind the voting screens at seven percent polling stations while polling agents and unauthorized individuals were seen to be accompanying the voters behind the secrecy screens at two and three percent polling stations, respectively.
Voters Identification Process
Voter identification is an intricate process where only voters with original CNIC are allowed to enter polling booths and cast vote. However voters carrying identification documents other than the CNIC were allowed to vote at 14,050 observed polling stations.
FAFEN observers reported that voters carrying CNIC were not allowed to cast vote at four percent polling stations. On the other hand, voters having identification other than the CNIC were allowed to cast vote at 23% polling stations while at as many polling stations voters without any means of identification were allowed to vote.
Furthermore, Polling Officers (PO) at four percent polling stations were reportedly not checking each voter’s hands for mark of indelible ink before applying the same. Polling Officers at 22% polling stations were seen not calling out voters’ names loudly to be heard by polling agents while at three percent polling stations, polling officers did not cross out the names of the voters after calling out loudly and at three percent polling stations POs did not put indelible ink on the back of each voters’ right thumb.
Facilitation to Disabled/Pregnant/Elderly/Women
Election law instructs the election staff to facilitate the voters that requires any assistance. However, of the 14,050 polling stations observed, 7,860 cases – 54% in KP, 26% in ICT, 23% in Punjab and 22% in Sindh – were reported where disabled voters were not allowed assistance.
FAFEN observers at 15% polling stations reported that polling officials did not allow the disabled voters to get assistance from individuals of their choice while at 46% polling stations it was observed that polling officials and polling agents were providing assistance to the physically challenged voters.
Partisan Polling Staff
Impartiality of election officials is central to credible election equally acceptable for all stakeholders. FAFEN reported 6,705 cases of partisan behavior from polling staff. Fifteen percent of the polling stations from where such cases were reported were located in ICT, 11 percent were located in Punjab, nine percent in Sindh and two percent in KP.
At one percent polling booths each, FAFEN observers saw polling officials, polling agents and/or other unauthorized persons marking ballot papers on behalf of voters at one percent.
In addition, at one percent polling booths, FAFEN observers reported that polling officials were pointing towards a particular candidate or party symbol on ballot paper for influencing voters. Similarly at one percent polling booths, polling officials were asking voters about their voting choice.
At 41% polling stations, polling agents were dissatisfied with the election processes and raised objections on it.
Closing of Polling Stations
FAFEN observers collected information on closing process from 3,483 observed polling stations across the four regions. A total of 2,231 illegalities were recorded by FAFEN of which 20% were in Sindh, 18% each in KP and ICT while 14% were in Punjab.
Reports show that 13% polling stations did not close at the officially stipulated closing time while the voters present inside the polling stations before the official closing time were not allowed to vote at 22% polling stations and at 26% Presiding Officers allowed more voters to join the voting queue and cast their votes after the official closing time.
Consolidation and Counting Process
After the close of poll, all ballot boxes should be brought together in one central room where all ballot papers should be consolidated by the polling officials for counting. However, staff at 312 polling stations – seven percent in KP, three percent each in Islamabad and Sindh and two percent in Punjab – did not follow this process. At three percent polling stations, Assistant Presiding Officers (APOs) did not close and seal the slots on the ballot boxes in the presence of polling agents after all the voters had polled their votes.
There were several complaints of partisan behavior shown by polling officials during the counting process, such violations were observed at 480 polling stations where region-wise breakdown reveals that two percent cases each were reported from KP and Sindh & one percent each from ICT and Punjab. Unauthorized persons were seen influencing the polling officials during counting process at one percent polling stations, while at five percent polling stations unauthorized persons were seen touching the ballot papers. At as many polling stations, several polling agents were touching the ballot papers and security officers were doing the same at two percent polling stations.
Counting of ballots is an intricate process where every vote needs to be thoroughly and carefully checked while counting votes. There were 12,301 violations reported for counting of ballot papers.
Details of the region-wise data shows that 23% illegalities were reported in Sindh followed by 22% each in KP, ICT and Punjab. Polling officials at three percent polling stations did not separate each ballot paper while at 23% they did not count all the spoiled, challenged and tendered ballot papers. At another one percent polling stations, officials did not carefully check each ballot paper during the vote count and at four percent polling stations they were not making separate piles for candidates. Polling officials present at four percent polling stations, were reportedly not creating a separate pile for the invalid ballots and at six percent polling stations they were not checking the stamp and signature of APOs on the back of each ballot paper.
Officials present at 12% polling stations were not putting ballot papers without stamp and signature in separate pile for invalid ballots. Moreover, polling officials at 18% polling stations were reportedly not putting unclearly marked ballots in a separate pile for invalid votes.
Observation of the counting process reveals that officials at 20% polling stations were seen wrongly putting clearly marked ballot papers in the pile of invalid votes and officials at 15% polling stations were wrongly considering unclearly marked ballots in the counting. Candidates or polling agents argued with polling officials at 20% polling stations for declaring some ballots invalid and not to be included in the counting.
Furthermore, polling officials did not separately count the challenged ballot papers for each candidate at 12% polling stations while at six percent polling stations they were not counting the ballot papers twice for each candidate.
Presiding officers have to fill the counting forms which are Statement of the Count Form and the Ballot Account Form. These forms combine to form election result and therefore possess critical importance. The data in these forms needs to be carefully filled to avoid any mistakes. A total of 5,756 cases were reported where the Presiding Officers did not fill out the election forms in legally prescribed manner. Such incidents were reported from 24% polling stations in ICT, 22% in Sindh, 20% in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 13% in Punjab.
FAFEN’s observation shows that Presiding Officers were not carefully filling the Statement of the Count Forms in legally stated manner at five percent polling stations while they were not carefully filling the Ballot Account Forms at seven percent polling stations. At 50% of the 3,436 polling stations observed for transparency of counting forms, the polling officials did not note invalid, challenged and spoiled ballots on the Statement of the Count Forms. Polling officials at 10% stations did not obtain signatures from the candidates or their polling agents on Statement of the Count Form while the officials at 11% polling stations did not obtain signatures from candidates or polling agents on Ballot Account Form.
The candidates or party agents were not provided a copy of Statement of the Count Form at nine percent polling stations while they were not provided the Ballot Account Form at seven percent polling stations. Likewise, FAFEN observers were not provided the Statement of the Count and Ballot Account Forms at 25% and 18% polling stations, respectively. Furthermore, polling officials did not display Statement of the Count Form outside 25% polling stations.
FAFEN’s trained, non-partisan citizen observers were restricted from entering polling stations on several occasions despite being duly accredited by Election Commission of Pakistan. A total of 155 incidents of bar on FAFEN observers were reported on Election Day. Region-wise breakdown shows that two percent observers were barred in Sindh while one percent each were barred in KP and Punjab.
FAFEN observers were reportedly barred from entering and observing the polling process at one percent polling stations while they were barred from observing the counting process at one percent of the observed 3,483 polling stations.