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ECP made limited efforts to improve transparency and accountability: EU observers

Updated October 26, 2018

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Chief of the European Union Election Observation Mission ( EU EOM), Michael Gahler along with EU Ambassador to Pakistan Jean-François Cautain (R). —Photo provided by author
Chief of the European Union Election Observation Mission ( EU EOM), Michael Gahler along with EU Ambassador to Pakistan Jean-François Cautain (R). —Photo provided by author
Gahler posing with the EU EOM report on the July 25 elections. —Photo provided by author
Gahler posing with the EU EOM report on the July 25 elections. —Photo provided by author

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM)'s final report on the July 25 elections was released on Friday after a briefing to discuss its findings, prominent among which was the observation that Election Commission of Pakistan made "limited efforts to improve its transparency and accountability during the electoral period".

The press conference was chaired by the mission's chief, Michael Gahler, who was accompanied by EU's Ambassador to Pakistan Jean-François Cautain to discuss the report's findings.

Earlier in the day, the two had arrived at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)'s central secretariat, where they were welcomed by the party's General Secretary, Arshad Dad.

The EU delegation extended their congratulations to the party leadership for their success in the general elections.

Matters pertaining to the peaceful transfer of power to the democratically elected government for a third consecutive time were at the forefront of the discussions held.

EU delegation meeting with PML-N leadership. —Photo provided by author
EU delegation meeting with PML-N leadership. —Photo provided by author

Earlier, the EU delegation also met with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leadership, including Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Raja Zafarul Haq, party spokesperson Marriyum Aurganzeb, and party leader Musaddiq Malik.

The two groups discussed the results of the general elections and the party briefed the EU delegation regarding its reservations over the results.

The EU EOM was in Pakistan from June 24 to August 23, during which it undertook the task of "observing all aspects of the electoral process and assess the extent to which the elections complied with international commitments for elections, as well as with national legislation".

ECP's inadequacies

According to the mission's observations in the report released today, while the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) "met key operational deadlines" and "administered the technical aspects of the election process generally well", the mission noted that the commission made little headway in ensuring it's transparency and accountability during the electoral period.

"The lack of regular communication with civil society and political parties, as well as timely information to voters on key stages of the electoral process, such as the failure to announce provisional results on time, increased the level of distrust between stakeholders and the ECP, and damaged the institution’s reputation," the report noted.

The mission also observed that voter education was severely lacking and "was not implemented in a timely manner". Furthermore, information on voting procedures and actions forbidden inside polling stations were not conveyed properly.

Gahler, while discussing the findings during the media briefing, also stressed that the ECP should prepare unified electoral rolls by removing the requirement for any supplementary list of voters and ensure greater participation of women on the general seats of the parliament.

Polling interference

The report also noted the extensive deployment of the army at polling stations and said that observers had "reported a few cases where they interfered in polling proceedings or directed party agents to stay outside the polling stations".

It was not clear from the report as to what extent the interference went to or how many instances the 'few cases' actually referred to.

Nonetheless, the presence of the armed forces led to reduced civilian ownership of the election process, the report states, over which the mission has recommended that "the army, should be limited to outside polling stations and should not interfere in the election process".

Media coverage

The report also covers media coverage of the election, which the EU EOM describes as "extensive, but devoid of journalistic non-partisan scrutiny".

"There was no level playing field for electoral contestants, including on the state-run TV. The PTI, the PML-N and the PPP joint share of exposure in all media was 81 per cent, including within the news on electoral matters," the report noted.

Additionally, the mission reported that the PML-N was featured the most, albeit, "up to two-thirds of the coverage was negative in tone".

PPP's coverage was observed to be neutral or positive in nature and "predominantly afforded to the party’s campaign activities".

PTI also appeared in media coverage either neutrally or positively according to the report, which also states: "The PTI leader was by far the most quoted political figure across the media landscape, which was particularly beneficial in such a divisive campaign environment."

The report also states that "editorial policies were carefully calibrated to downplay issues relating to the army, state security structures, and the judiciary"

Worryingly, it mentions that "concerted efforts to stifle the reporting environment were observed, and included intimidating phone calls to senior editors, the disruption and hindrance of the distribution of broadcast and print outlets, and harassment of individual journalists".

Use of technology

While the use of the technology was hailed by the mission, it expressed overall dissatisfaction with the performance of the Results Transmission System (RTS).

"The lack of contingency planning and of testing the RTS application resulted in the delayed and non-transparent transmission of election results," the report states.

Priority recommendations

The EU EOM report has highlighted eight priority recommendations given below:

  1. Establish legal certainty for the right to stand. Review the Constitution and Elections Act so that any restrictions imposed are not subject to vague, moral and arbitrary criteria and, in practice, align with international standards. The ECP should establish guidelines for consistent implementation of candidacy requirements.

  2. Revise the Elections Act, Election Rules and Codes of Conduct to ensure robust mechanisms for transparency. These would include specific timeframes for, and the manner of, dissemination of information of public interest, including online. Enforceable sanctions for non-compliance should also be adopted.

  3. To contribute to public confidence in the ECP, the Commission should introduce a range of measures to increase transparency and inclusiveness. These would include the timely publication of procedures, decisions and other information of public interest, and regular meetings and consultations on electoral issues with key stakeholders, including civil society.

  4. Guarantee civilian ownership of the conduct of elections. The presence of security forces, including the army, should be limited to outside polling stations and should not interfere in the election process.

  5. Review the legal framework for media, including for online content, to ensure compliance with international standards for freedom of expression, and repeal undue restrictions on media’s output. Consider decriminalisation of defamation, clarify the definition of blasphemy and set out unambiguous criteria for blocking online content.

  6. Adopt affirmative measures to foster the representation of women contesting general seats. Double the current five per cent mandatory registration of women candidates in political parties. Consistently implement sanctions for non-compliance. Ensure strict adherence to the legal threshold for female voter turnout.

  7. Adopt a unified electoral roll by removing the requirement for any supplementary list of voters, so that all citizens can be registered to vote on an equal basis in accordance with international standards.

  8. Establish in law the right to national and international observation, ensuring full access for observers, including media, to all stages of the electoral process. Develop and adopt simple and transparent requirements for accreditation to be published well in advance of elections. To ensure scrutiny of the process, the ECP should facilitate the participation of civil society organisations in election observation.