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With electoral reform and rigging allegations being the talk of the town in recent days, Dawn spoke to Muddassir Rizvi, who leads the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) – a non-government organisation that works on electoral issues and played a major role in training and deploying observers at polling stations during the 2013 general elections – to find out just how groundbreaking these fresh revelations are.

Q: What was the role of independent observers and Fafen in the general elections of 2013? What were your findings?

A: International observers in Pakistan are accredited by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on an individual basis and for the 2013 election, Fafen trained around 40,100 international observers who were accredited by ECP.

After the scrutiny of their observations, findings and suggestions, Fafen was able to finalise more around 40,000 reports which were genuinely believable.

However, Fafen’s role in the process did not end on the Election Day. We went through the voters’ list when they were finalised back in 2011 and matched the voters to the lists and the lists to the voter. Fafen had found that there were 13 per cent voters that had not been registered to vote in their area of residence. This problem could have rectified had the judiciary not interfered and asked to hasten the process of finalising the voters’ lists. Similarly, the code of conduct regarding the election campaign was not very strictly followed. Also there was non-uniform application of this code throughout the country.

There were, however, some major improvements, such as removal of duplications in the voters’ lists.

On Election Day, we witnessed improved privacy of voters. This showed that people were not pressurised by the ECP official present at the polling stations. However, there were issues with vote counts, transparency and the involvement of the polling agents in the process.

One major illegality that was observed was the changes in polling station at the last minute, which could be assumed as a method of suppressing the voters. This fault lay on the part of the returning officers and the ECP should have taken due action against them.

Q: How do you view the PTI’s demands for electoral reform?

A: What the PTI is saying now, Fafen has been saying since 2008. We have been campaigning for the separation of judicial officials from returning officers. In a report released in November 2012, we pointed out that it was illegal under the Representation of People’s Act to give judicial powers to returning officers.

There are four major areas, which need to be worked upon. Firstly, ECP should be made completely autonomous, not just independent.

Secondly, Islamabad and Fata should be represented in the ECP board. Thirdly, the chief election commissioner should be appointed by a committee comprising all political parties, not just the government and the opposition.

Lastly, provincial assemblies should appoint the provincial representatives in the ECP. The National Assembly should only be responsible to appoint the CEC and the representatives of Fata and Islamabad. Similarly, all parties at the provincial assembly level, should have one representative each in deciding their provincial representative.

Q: How does Fafen react to the revelations made by former ECP official Afzal Khan?

A: Mr Afzal Khan has no proof and was only reiterating what was already public knowledge. What is important here is that ECP should conduct an inquiry and make its findings public. Until such time, speculations and baseless accusations can be made by any stakeholder.

ECP cannot just simply deny rigging allegations. They need to hold a thorough investigation to back up their claims. Similarly, they cannot also simply assume that there was a “typographic error” in vote counting. Even if there was a typographical error, it is an offence and should be duly punished.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2014