ISLAMABAD: The first-ever comprehensive audit of Form-45 has revealed that 95 per cent of the total 78,467 such forms tabulating results of the count prepared for the elections in 249 constituencies of the National Assembly had not been signed by the polling agents of political parties and candidates.
The audit carried out by the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) — a group of non-governmental organisations working to reform electoral processes — also discloses that in as many as 48 NA constituencies, not even a single form had been signed by the polling agents. The number could be higher when data of the remaining 23 constituencies will be available. The elections were held in 270 of the 272 NA constituencies while the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) uploaded the data of 249 constituencies on its official website.
According to Fafen, the proportion of un-signed Forms-45 was as high as 98pc in Balochistan where only 49 of the 2,437 such forms had been signed by the polling agents. It stood at 97pc in Sindh where merely 573 of the 17,493 forms bore signatures of the polling agents. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 634 of the 13,790 forms had been signed which means 95pc of them had not been signed. The proportion of un-signed forms was 94pc in Punjab where 2,705 of the 43,971 forms had been signed. The situation was comparatively better in the federal capital where 195 (25pc) of the 786 forms had been signed.
ECP rejects Fafen claim and says it will shortly release its own ‘authentic data’
Overall, 4,156 out of the 78,467 forms had been signed by the polling agents.
Under Section 90 (12) of the Elections Act, 2017, the presiding officer at each polling station is duty-bound to obtain on Form-45 and Form-46 the signatures of polling agents who are present at the time of finalisation of election results at the polling station. In case of refusal by any polling agent to sign the form, the Presiding Officers are duty-bound to record a note on the respective forms.
Although a legal requirement, neither Form-45 nor Form-46 has any specific section for the signing of polling agents. Notwithstanding the operational weaknesses of the legal requirement, which was also part of the previous Representation of Peoples Act, 1976 (Section 38, Subsection 13), Fafen documented the scale of enforcement of the provision.
The network says that the consistent weak enforcement of this provision points to the need for parliamentary action for legislative amendment to ensure that this procedure is implemented in letter and spirit to bolster political parties and public confidence in election results.
When contacted, senior Fafen representative Mudassir Rizvi said that implementation of Section 90 (12) of the Elections Act was nearly impossible for the simple reason that this legal provision was subject to the presence of polling agents at the time of finalisation of Form-45 at a polling station.
“In case a political party contends that its polling agent was not asked by the presiding officer of a certain polling station to sign Form-45, it will have to prove the charge in an election tribunal by providing adequate evidence admissible under Pakistan’s law of evidence. In case of general election 2018, political parties will have to individually prove more than 70,000 such instances in election tribunals, which is impossible. This is because the law itself is weak,” he remarked.
A senior ECP official, when contacted, rejected Fafen’s claim that 95pc Forms-45 did not bear signatures of the polling agents and said the commission would shortly release its own “authentic data”. He said Fafen’s data was based merely on the first page of Form-45 whereas more than one form had been used at various polling stations.
He said a second form had to be used where the number of candidates was more than eight and another form if the number exceeded 16. Moreover, in many cases polling agents had affixed signatures on back of the forms which had not been uploaded on the ECP website, he added.
The official said that another problem was that candidates had engaged inexperienced polling agents who were in many cases ‘hired’ for their daylong services. However, he agreed that the legal provision required a suitable amendment.
‘PPP stand vindicated’
In charge of the PPP election cell and former senator Taj Haider said the Fafen data fully vindicated the stand of the Pakistan Peoples Party of throwing out by force of polling agents at the time of vote count and not getting Form-45 signed by polling agents in blatant and gross violation of Section 90(12) of the Elections Act.
He pointed out that in a data covering 78,000 Forms-45 only 66 had been signed by the PPP polling agents. “The ECP propaganda that the polling agents of losing parties had left the polling station on their own is falsified by the fact that only 112 Forms-45 bear the signatures of PTI polling agents and only 78 those of PML-N polling agents,” he said.
Curiously enough, he added, there were 4,028 signed forms on which no political party had been mentioned. “One wonders if these signatures are genuine, or have been put there by some ‘duty conscious’ polling staff in order to increase the number of signed Forms-45,” he remarked.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2018