ISLAMABAD: Low voter turnout, procedural irregularities and restrictions on independent obse­r­vation in two provincial constituencies in Punjab overshadowed the improved results management and lower numbers of ballots excluded from the count during April 21 elections in 22 national and provincial assembly constituencies, the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) said in its report, released on Tuesday.

Polling station establishment, voter identification, and counting at polling stations were observed to have been largely compliant with law and procedures. However, instances of omissions in ballot iss­uance requirements by Assistant Presiding Officers (APOs) were reported from around 14 per cent of the observed polling stations.

While polling agents and accre­dited observers generally had acc­ess to voting and counting process, security officials or presiding offi­cers barred Fafen observers from observing the election process at 19 polling stations in PP-36 Wazi­r­abad and PP-22 Chakwal-cum-Tal­a­gang. In PP-22, the accreditation process of Fafen observers was also delayed until the midday on the polling day causing last-minute changes in the observation scope.

Nearly 36pc registered voters cast their votes on polling day — 9pc less than the turnout in 18 of these constituencies during the Feb 8 general elections. Votes polled by women decreased by 12pc, while votes polled by men declined by 9pc, despite an increase of 75,640 registered voters, including 37,684 men and 37,956 women compared to the general elections.

Report says observers barred from their duties at 19 polling stations in two Punjab constituencies

Sharpest decline

Lahore’s five constituencies rec­o­rded the sha­r­pest decline in the vo­ter turnout with PP-147 rep­or­t­ing a mere 14pc as against 35pc on Feb 8. Similarly, NA-119 Lahore registered a 19pc turnout against 39pc on Feb 8. However, the voter turnout in Gujrat and Khuzdar co­n­stituencies recorded an incr­ease compared to general elections.

The declining turnout was accompanied by a reduction in the number of ballots excluded from the count during the by-elections, almost halved (35,574) as compared to the number of invalid ballots (72,472) during the general elections.

The Election Comm­ission of Pakistan issued provisional results for all the constituencies by the legal deadline of 10am on the next day of election, despite suspension of cellular data services in the constituencies in Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh, though KP constituencies did not report any such disruption.

The parties that won during the general elections retained their seats in the by-elections, except in PP-36 Wazirabad and PP-93 Bhakkar. In these constituencies, PTI-backed candidate and an independent candidate had won during the general elections, but PML-N candidates emer­ged successful in the by-elections. These two were among the four constituencies where the margin of victory has decreased as compared to the Feb 8 general elections unlike the rest where the margin of victory has increased.

The by-polls were necessitated due to the death of candidates in four constituencies and vacation of seats by wining candidates in 19 constituencies. PB-50 Killa Abdullah, however, went to re-poll only after a Supreme Court verdict. Of these 24, the ECP notified uncontested returned candidates in NA-207 Shaheed Benazi­rabad-I and PS-80 Dadu-I.

A PTI-backed independent candidate for NA-207 moved court seeking nullification of the uncontested elections claiming that his nomination was wrongly rejected by the RO.

The ECP had set up 4,238 polling stations — 935 for male voters, 899 for female voters and 2,404 combined — comprising 13,811 polling booths to cater to more than 6.3 million registered voters.

Fafen deployed 259 election day observers to observe the voting and counting processes at 1,036 polling stations in five National Assembly and 17 provincial assembly constituencies (12 in Punjab, three in Balochistan and two in Khyber Pakht­unkhwa).

This report is based on the observations received on the election day from 532 polling stations through Fafen’s election day observation mobile app.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2024

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