ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has tacitly held returning officers (ROs) responsible for the mess created in various constituencies in the general elections held last year.
According to a post-election report issued by the ECP, the officers taken from the lower judiciary amended the polling scheme during the last few days before the general elections, causing confusion among polling staff, voters and other stakeholders. They also changed polling staff at the last minute, replacing trained staff with inexperienced personnel.
The ROs were legally responsible to identify and select polling stations. But, the report added, they did not conduct this task themselves.
District committees which comprised representatives of ECP, civil administration and the education department, identified, selected and verified the list of polling stations.
The ROs, in coordination with district administrations, were responsible to arrange transport for dispatching election material from their offices to polling stations. The report said the transportation facility was not adequate. Since the number of buses hired to deliver material to polling staff did not match the number of stations, delivery was many hours behind schedule.
There was the same problem at the end of polling. Polling staff had to wait for buses, even after completion of their polling duty until the staff at nearby polling stations completed their job. There was not enough space in buses for both polling staff and the material.
Presiding officers were not aware of shortage of election material as they did not check the quantity of material against invoices and came to know about the shortage on the polling day. Most of the polling staff knew nothing about magnetised ink and its purpose, and so used normal inkpads instead of magnetised ones.
In what appeared to be an admission of its failure, the ECP said the election material like voting screens, ballot paper, scissors and pens was of bad quality. The usual practice observed was that electoral block codes with serial number had not been pasted on each polling booth. This created confusion among voters as they had to search for their booths.
Most polling stations were very congested and two to three booths were set up in one small room. The efficiency of polling staff was suffered to high number of voters, cramped space, extremely hot weather and loadshedding of electricity.
Envelopes for packing ballot papers were fewer and smaller than the number and size of papers. Moreover, there was shortage of tamper-evident bags.
According to the report, most of the presiding officers did not properly pack tamper-evident bags and other material. District election commissioner offices did not have adequate storage facility for the election material.
The report said ROs did not take the responsibility for retrieval of election material and DROs and ROs did not take responsibility of missing material.
UNTRAINED STAFF: The report said untrained staff was engaged for tabulation. Mistakes in the Form XIV negatively influenced the result tabulation. ROs used the manual system and result management system (RMS) as secondary mechanism.
The ECP said the introduction of RMS was really a good idea, but there were several flaws in it. Due to certain flaws in the system no result was received from Sindh during the first night after the polls.
The ROs had full authority to accept or reject nomination papers of contesting candidates, but the ECP did not issue specific instructions for undertaking this process. It had been left to the ROs’ discretion. Provisions of Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution were subjective and the application of these clauses varied from one RO to another, causing inconsistencies in the scrutiny process.
The report discloses that many candidates had been cleared without proper verification as a scrutiny cell established in the ECP headquarters did not perform effectively. Many ROs did not receive candidates’ data from NAB, SBP and FBR, or were provided information after the scrutiny process was over.
The handbook for DROs and ROs covered most of the necessary information and guidance for the polling day, but they had been provided with these books very late.
The ROs received their appointment notifications 15 days before the elections and the deadline given for finalisation of the polling scheme had abruptly been shortened.
According to the report, ROs did not have adequate transport to inspect polling stations. Some polling personnel nominated by their departments were not available for duty at the last moment and some of the polling staff who received training did not turn up on the day.
The ECP said some influential candidates managed to get shifted the polling stations of their opponents’ voters to far-flung areas so that they could not cast their vote.
Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014