ISLAMABAD: A group of dozens of non-governmental organisations joining hands for transparent electoral procedures on Friday gave a clean chit to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on two major issues it has been facing: the opposition’s scathing criticism over the Form-45 controversy and the expulsion of polling agents from polling stations during vote count.
The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) in its findings and analysis of the 2018 general elections disclosed that the incidence of non-provision of Form-45 to candidates and their agents at polling stations had dropped from 7.5 per cent in 2013 polls to 2.5pc in 2018.
The report was released at a press conference where Fafen representatives said that thousands of security cameras had been installed at sensitive polling stations and the issue could be sorted out by using them.
One polling agent of each candidate was allowed to attend the counting process under the law
It was also stated that the polling agents had not been expelled from polling stations. It was clarified that one polling agent for each booth at a polling station was appointed, but only one agent of a candidate was allowed to attend the counting process under the law, as there would be difficulty in counting the ballots if the polling station was unnecessarily crowded.
The report, however, says the assessment of Form-45 reveals that more than a quarter of the forms (22,319 or 28pc) were either inaccurate, unduly filled or were only partially available. The majority of such forms (17,722) were unduly filled.
According to Rule 81 of the Election Rules 2017, presiding officers (PrOs) prepare the Result of the Count on Form-45. In addition to basic information about the constituency and the polling station to which it relates, Form-45 includes information about voters assigned to the polling station, the number of valid votes polled in favour of each candidate, ballots excluded from the count, gender-disaggregated turnout, and credentials, signatures, and thumb impressions of PrOs and most senior assistant president officer (APO).
Assessment of these forms reveals that the National Identity Card (NIC) numbers of PrOs and APOs, required credentials on the form, were the most frequently omitted legal formalities. Nearly 14.7pc of the forms lacked NIC numbers of PrOs, while 11.8 per cent did not have NIC numbers of APOs. Other legalities missing in the forms included APOs’ signatures in 5.4 per cent, APOs’ designations in 3.3 per cent, APOs’ thumb impressions in 2.7 per cent, and names of Senior Most APOs in 2.3 per cent of the forms. Similarly, 2.6 per cent of forms lacked designations of PrOs, 2.2 per cent lacked thumb impressions of PrOs, two per cent lacked the PrOs signatures, and 1.9 per cent were without names of PrOs.
Mudassir Rizvi of Fafen, while answering a question, said the network planned to initiate a debate on proportionate representation system, noting that the vote did not translate into representation and a structural change was required to address the problem.
The report also says election results in Pakistan are decided according to the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP). In FPTP, voters can choose only one candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins the election. The votes cast for losing candidates and the votes of winning candidates in excess of those required for victory play no part in determining the election outcome in this voting system and are, therefore, not translated into representation.
Pakistani elections have witnessed a growing trend of votes for losing candidates, with the percentage of such votes in GE 2018 reaching an all-time high since GE 2002. Nearly 57 per cent of polled votes (31.1 million) did not translate into any representation during GE 2018, which is considerably greater than the unrepresented votes in GE 2013. The proportion of votes that went to losing candidates declined slightly between GE 2002 and GE 2008 but has been on the rise since.
Regionally, votes for losing candidates have been higher in Balochistan and KP than in other regions since GE 2008, while GE 2002 saw this issue mostly in Punjab and ICT.
In addition to votes for losing candidates, the 2018 winning candidates received 11.8 per cent ‘unnecessary’ votes in excess of the number of votes required to win the election, therefore, having no impact on the election outcome. The number of excess votes significantly declined in GE 2018 as compared to GE 2013, which indicates increasingly close contests between losing and runner-up candidates and smaller margins of victory for winning candidates.
In total, in GE 2018 more than two-thirds of all votes — 57 per cent polled for losing candidates and 11.8 per cent excess votes of winning candidates — were not contributing to any political representation. This situation warrants reforms in the voting system.
Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2018