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The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) said on Friday that “despite issues with the Result Transmission System (RTS) set in place by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) … Fafen acknowledges significant improvements in the quality of critical electoral processes in the election cycle.”

In a preliminary report released earlier today, the network said that more than half of Pakistan’s registered voters went to the polls on July 25, 2018.

According to the Fafen, voter turnout remained 53.3 per cent and the highest turnout of voters was in Punjab, where 59 per cent of registered voters went to the polls in 127 National Assembly constituencies.

In Islamabad the turnout was 58.2 per cent, 47.7 per cent was observed in 52 in Sindh, 43.6 per cent in KP and Fata and 39.6 per cent in Balochistan.

The network also observed that male turnout was 58.3 per cent, more than 10 per cent higher than the female turnout that remained 47 per cent.

The network said that it deployed a total of 19,683 observers — 13,819 men and 5,846 women — “to oversee voting and counting processes at 72,089 polling stations in the 270 National Assembly constituencies”.

The network says that “the election day was better managed and the scale of procedural irregularities during the voting process was relatively low".

It was also observed that polling was conducted uninterrupted at the majority of polling stations, with reports from 1,450 of 37,001 polling stations suggesting that “the polling process was chaotic due to overcrowding and slow processing of voters.”

Fafen said, “This issue was reported almost in equal numbers from all types of polling stations.”

Mostly peaceful election day

According to Fafen, the election day was “better managed.” It was observed that the day was “relatively peaceful and free of any major controversy until late night concerns emerged over the transparency of the counting process, and the subsequent slow process of the announcement of provisional results prompted some political parties to reject the election results.”

The network commended the ECP for the deployment of 371,000 armed forces personnel on election duties, “despite questions from some political parties, ECP ensured the peaceful conduct of polls amid heightened threats of subversive acts.”

“With massive deployment of armed forces alongside police and other law enforcement agencies, people felt reassured and came out to vote in large numbers,” the network observed while adding that security forces were performing their responsibilities inside and outside more than 35,000 polling stations.

ECP’s increased assertion and electoral reforms

With regard to voter registration, Fafen said that “a particular focus on increasing women enrollment on electoral rolls, and greater diligence in following legally defined principles in delimitation and effective enforcement of campaign rules, the ECP appeared to be more assertive in its attempt to deliver an improved quality of election.”

“The electoral reforms that strengthened the country’s election framework and granted expanded powers to the election commission clearly led to dividends,” Fafen admitted, while adding that the ECP oversaw “an unprecedented deployment of government employees on election duties. For the first time, the Commission deployed 849 independent Returning Officers for all National and Provincial Assembly constituencies, which initially caused some procedural issues, such as in the finalisation of polling schemes, but were timely addressed by the ECP.”

“As many as 811,491 personnel to be deputed for election duties were trained to perform functions as presiding officers, assistant presiding officers and polling officers at 85,317 polling stations with 242,088 polling booths that were setup in 272 national and 577 provincial assembly constituencies,” the network said.

“As a result of improved training of election officials the procedural irregularities in ballot processing that Fafen had observed and reported in previous elections appear to have reduced,” the report said.

Need to address political parties’ concerns

“The election commission is expected to allay the concerns of major political parties over the integrity of results counting, tabulation and consolidation processes by employing its expanded powers to discipline and penalise officials and institutions that are found to be responsible for the technological failure that compromised its otherwise demonstrable successes in ensuring a better quality election” the network pointed out.

According to the network, “It does not augur well for the election commission to reject the concerns of major political parties without conducting an enquiry into the matter, as otherwise the country may spiral into phase of political and public protest and outcry that inhibits political stability”.

Take a look at the full Fafen report here.