LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has observed that in some places polling staff appeared to be biased towards a certain political party, with voters who had received slips from another party’s stall being turned back on flimsy grounds.

In at least one instance, women voters reported being asked whom they intended to vote for, and the commission received complaints that in many areas women were not allowed to vote, says a HRCP preliminary report based on data received from its observers in the field.

Such instances are serious contraventions of the law, the HRCP says and hopes that these will be promptly and transparently addressed.

According to a press release issued by the HRCP, on polling day the commission’s monitoring teams carried out observation in 67 National Assembly constituencies — 12 of these in Balochistan, 14 in Khyber Pakh­tunkhwa and tribal districts (erstwhile Fata), 21 in Punjab and Islamabad Capital Territory and 20 in Sindh.

Praises electorate for its commitment to democracy, especially in the face of three devastating suicide attacks

Above all, the HRCP commends the electorate for its commitment to democracy and representative selection, especially in the face of three devastating suicide attacks. The commission strongly condemns Wednesday’s suicide attack in Quetta, which has left about 31 people dead, and expresses its deepest condolences with their families.

Overall, the HRCP observes that performance of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) leaves much to be desired.

“While the commission has carried out its clerical functions reasonably well, the political content of its work has fallen short of expectations,” the report says. “Polling schemes were poorly rationalised, with many voters in the Lahore Cantonment, for instance, indicating they did not know where to go to vote.

“Many polling stations were clustered together, but too small to cater to the number of voters. As a result, polling process remained sluggish through the day. This, compounded with ill trained staff in many cases, meant that many people who reached their polling station in time were compelled to queue outside the premises for want of space, but were not let in to cast their vote.

In one instance, the HRCP received a complaint from a presiding officer who had spent the night at his designated polling station, but not received any official provision to feed his colleagues.

Many polling stations consisted of small, dark, humid rooms, in some cases not even equipped with fans, the report says.

The commission strongly feels that ECP staff should have been better looked after, given the enormity of their task.

The HRCP takes exception to the authorities’ failure to facilitate physically disabled people’s access to polling stations, despite promises made in the past. In several cases, observers reported that disabled voters had been assigned to polling booths on the first floor.

The commission will release a detailed report of its observations in the next several days.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2018