ISLAMABAD: Nearly 27.6 per cent of the registered voters in seven districts and frontier regions of the formerly Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) went to the first-ever elections to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly seats, marking the completion of their constitutional merger with the province a year after the passage of the 25th Constitution Amendment.
The historic elections in the areas that were embroiled in conflict for almost two decades remained peaceful and free from any major controversy over the quality of the electoral process, says a preliminary report issued by the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) on Sunday.
However, the report says these elections did not yield a turnout that was expected, which remained lower by 6.3pc in comparison to the turnout for the National Assembly seats on July 25 last year.
Fafen finds elections free from major controversy
Partly due to warm weather that discouraged people from going out of their homes in the afternoon in some constituencies, the reason for the low turnout may also be attributed to an increase in the number of total voters registered in these districts by 285,976 in June.
A majority of these voters may just be part of the diaspora from these districts who are now residing in other parts of Pakistan, and only allocated to their permanent addresses in compliance with the provisions of the Elections Act, 2017. If the turnout is calculated on the basis of the registered voters prior to this addition, it remained almost the same as it was on July 25, 2018.
A gender disaggregation of turnout suggests almost 20pc of women voters turned out to vote in this election as compared to 23.8pc on July 25, last year. Similarly, around 33pc of male voters voted in this election as compared to 40.3pc in the last general elections. These turnout figures are, however, based on information received from 14 constituencies.
The election followed a competitive campaign with almost all major political parties vying for majority of the 16 PA seats. Supervised directly by the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) officials as district returning officers (DROs) and retuning officers (ROs), the crucial election processes before and on the polling day were largely managed in accordance with the provisions of the Elections Act, 2017.
Fafen had deployed a total of 953 trained observers (858 men and 95 women) to observe the voting process at 1,617 (85pc of the total) polling stations and counting at half of them.
Amid apparently misplaced security fears, the overall environment on the polling day remained peaceful with the observers reporting three incidents of violence in Khyber, Mohmand and Kurram leading to interruptions to the voting process.
In PK-105 Khyber-I and PK-109 Kurram-I, the observers reported clashes between workers of rival candidates. Two persons were reportedly injured due to an incident of firing outside a polling station in PK-103 Mohmand-I. A media outlet also reported an incident of firing on an independent candidate in South Waziristan. However, Fafen could not confirm the report through its observers.
The conduct of the polling staff and security officials was observed to generally have remained in line with the provisions of the law and their respective codes. However, the observers reported interruptions to the voting process at some polling stations due to inadequately trained staff and shortage of election material.
In addition, the observers also reported certain irregularities of electoral law, rules and codes from multiple constituencies such as canvassing and campaigning outside polling stations, oversized polling stations, provision of transportation to voters by candidates, etc.
Notwithstanding concerns raised by some major political parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party and Awami National Party, over the fairness of the electoral process before election as well as the deployment of security forces inside stations, the ECP appeared to have asserted its authority by timely redressing complaints by political parties and contesting candidates for changing ROs and AROs in four constituencies, and also issuing orders to the provincial administration for the release of two detained candidates contesting elections from PK-113 South Waziristan-I and PK-114 South Waziristan-II as independents.
The ECP had set up 1,896 polling stations for 2,798,277 registered voters, averaging one polling station for 1,476 voters.
Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2019