ISLAMABAD: The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) on Sunday complained that its accredited observers were not allowed by security officials to witness voting and counting processes in 21 polling stations during the by-election in NA-120 (Lahore-III).

“Procedural irregularities in voting and counting processes and a bar on legally accredited observers by security officials were the key highlights of reports from 40 Fafen observers, who observed election procedures at 113 out of 220 polling stations established for the by-election which was held in unprecedented security arrangements,” said Fafen’s report on the Lahore by-poll.

Fafen, an alliance of more than 50 civil society organisations, said in its report that though the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) managed to control illegal campaigning and canvassing around the majority of polling stations, its observers witnessed party camps at one-fourth and provision of transport by candidates at around one-third of the observed polling stations.

“Fafen observers were barred from entering 11 polling stations (9.7pc of observed stations) by security officials, despite the fact that they had been duly accredited by the ECP. The observers were also restricted from observing the counting process [at] another 10 polling stations,” says the report.

ECP pilots biometric voter verification machines at 39 polling stations in NA-120

The polling stations, a list of which available with Dawn, where the observers were not allowed inlcuded: Govt Islamia College Civil Lines; Govt Muslim High School No 2 Civil Lines; Shining High School for Boys Amin Park; City District Government Girls Primary School Mali Pura, Ravi Road; Kaswa Public School Karim Park; Baitul Islam School Bilal Gunj; Malik Public School, Malik Part; City District Government Junior Model School, Chohan Road; Govt Model Middle Girls School, Band Road; Rafah-i-Alma Girls High School Charaghdin Road, Mozang Road; Fatima Jinnah Medical University; Punjab Model Girls School, Karim Park; office of the director general housing and town planning, Rewaz Garden; University of Education; City District Govt Girls High School Bilal Gunj and City District Government Junior Model Girls Middle School, Islampura.

Most of these locations had separate polling stations for men and women.

The ECP allows the accredited observers to monitor all stages of the election, including the opening of polling stations, voting and the counting process.

However, Fafen observers reported that election officials, under close supervision of the army, were hesitant to allow even accredited observers from entering the polling stations and carrying out their duties.

It says the camps of the political parties were witnessed outside 24 polling stations within the prescribed 400-meter boundary for campaigning and canvassing, while transport was being provided by candidates and parties at around 37 polling stations (about one-third of the observed polling stations).

Fafen observers reported that voter chits printed with party symbols were being produced before polling officers at 152 polling booths.

The ECP had set up 220 polling stations, including 102 male, 99 female and 19 combined polling stations. A total of 573 polling booths — 312 male and 261 female — were set up. A total of 321,786 citizens, including 142,144 women, are registered as voters in the constituency. The ECP distributed 350,000 ballot papers to the polling stations.

According to Fafen estimates, the overall turnout of voters in this by-election is expected to be approximately 28pc-35pc for men and 19pc for women. During the 2013 general elections, NA-120 registered a record turnout of 51.9pc, while in the 2002 and 2008 general elections the turnout was recorded at 31.3pc and 36.3pc, respectively.

BVM pilot

The ECP also conducted a pilot-test of 100 biometrics verification machines (BVMs) at 39 polling stations and installed the machines with the assistance of the National Database and Registration Authority to authenticate voters before issuing them ballot papers.

According to a statement issued by the commission, “the overall result of BVMs’ performance was well satisfactory based on rating received”. It said that 88pc of voters on these polling stations were verified through BVMs.

Fafen observed that the trial-run of BVMs and a majority of observers reported that BVMs were not operated by authorised polling staff, but employees of the firm from which the machines were procured.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2017

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