ISLAMABAD: The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) has pointed out procedural irregularities in Thursday’s by-election held for the Sindh Assembly’s constituency PS-11 (Larkana-II).
According to a Fafen report, there were also some instances of the breach of secrecy of voters’ ballots inside some polling booths.
The report is based on the observation of 69 polling stations received from 21 trained observers who directly observed and reported on the election environment in and outside polling stations. They reported instances of electoral and political violence, pre-voting preparations at polling stations and voting and counting processes inside polling stations.
Each observer spent nearly one hour at each polling station in the constituency to observe polling processes.
Fafen documented instances of improbable voting at least one of the booths of 21 polling stations where an average of more than 33 votes per hour was cast at the time of observation.
According to Form 48, the Consolidated Statement of the Results of the Count, furnished by the presiding officers, Grand Democratic Alliance’s candidate Moazzam Ali Abbasi emerged winner at 17 of these polling stations as compared to four such polling stations where Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) candidate Jamil Soomro secured most votes.
Report is based on the observation of 69 polling stations received from 21 observers
The improbable voting pattern was calculated on the basis of estimated time required to complete the voting process — right from the appearance of a voter before the polling officer to his/her actual casting of ballot — is 108 seconds or 1 minute and 48 seconds.
Fafen observers also reported instances of breach of secrecy of voters’ ballots inside polling booths, indicating issues with the management of polling stations. Out of 230 observed polling booths, 18 instances of breach of secrecy were observed at as many booths. The breach of secrecy was due to multiple reasons, including setting up of secrecy screens in a manner not consistent with guidelines provided by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), voters accompanied by other persons behind secrecy screens, voters queuing up too close to the secrecy screen waiting for their turn to vote.
Equally concerning was the observation that CCTV cameras at as many as 31 polling stations were installed in a manner that they could compromise voters’ secrecy guaranteed by the constitution and the law, the report said.
Authorised polling agents, who are legally allowed to witness the polling process and object to any irregularity, were appropriately seated at most (213 or 93 per cent) of the observed polling booths and were able to see the entire polling process. However, the seating arrangement for polling agents at the remaining 17 (7pc) polling booths did not enable them to see the polling process clearly.
Despite a competitive campaign that preceded the by-election, the voter turnout remained 39pc, 2pc less than the turnout recorded during the 2018 general elections.
According to Fafen observers, security personnel were seen performing their duties outside all the observed polling stations and inside more than 95pc polling stations. The security personnel generally followed the guidelines provided to them by the ECP in their code of conduct except for five polling stations where they allowed voters to carry their phones inside polling stations.
Fafen observed presence of party camps outside 62 of 69 polling stations on the election day. In 15 party camps, armed persons were observed to have been present. Although the election law clearly prohibits candidates and their supporters from providing transport to voters on the election day, Fafen observers reported this illegality from outside 50 of the observed polling stations. Moreover, election officials did not remove party campaign materials inside four polling stations.
The observers also reported three incidents at as many polling stations where polling staff disallowed a voter with disability to seek assistance from a person of his choice for casting the vote. A total of 51 of the observed polling stations lacked adequate ramp facility for wheelchair-bound voters.
At four polling stations, six instances of people accompanying a voter behind the secrecy screen were observed. Seven instances at two polling stations were observed where polling staff was found influencing voters by signalling towards a specific candidate or party.
Moreover, 21 instances of polling staff inquiring the voters about their voting choice were also reported from four polling stations. Nine instances of polling agents influencing voters by signalling towards a specific candidate or party were observed at three polling stations while 36 instances of polling agents inquiring voters about their voting choice were observed at four polling stations.
Fafen also observed the counting process at 14 polling stations. At one polling station, the PPP’s polling agent refused to sign the Result of the Count (Form-45).
Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2019