Oddly High Turnout, Heavy Presence of Police and Weak Enforcement of Election Laws Mark December 4 By-Elections: Report

Islamabad: A relatively lawful election campaign followed by unusually high turnout, incidences of violence, violations of the code of conduct, suspicious voting patterns and presence of police inside polling stations indicate weak enforcement of election day procedures in nine by-elections on December 4, 2012, reports the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in its Preliminary Report on Thursday.

By-elections were held in two National Assembly constituencies – NA-162 (Sahiwal-III), NA-107 (Gujrat-IV), –and seven Provincial Assembly constituencies– PP-26 Jhelum-III, PP-92 (Gujranwala-II), PS-21 (Naushehro-Feroz-III), PP-122 (Sialkot-II), PP-129 (Sialkot-IX) and PP-133 (Narowal-II) and PP-226 (Sahiwal-VIII). Elections for NA-162, NA-107, PP-26, PP-92, PS-21, PP-122 and PP-226 were disqualified by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) while elections were necessitated in PP-129 and PP-133 following the resignation of dual-national members elected in the general elections of 2008.

While the ECP appeared highly effective in Bannu by-elections held in August 2012, its enforcement appeared to be challenged particularly in Punjab by-elections where district government officials as well as police were more active than they are required to be and present where they should not be. FAFEN observers reported presence of police inside at least 638 of 746 (85%) polling stations where by-elections were held in Punjab. A more Punjab-specific phenomenon as reported by FAFEN in earlier by-elections as well, the presence of police at times not only impairs the ability of elections officials to act independently but also creates an environment of coercion for voters.

Although the ECP has yet to release the officials result, unofficial results and FAFEN observation establish an unusually high turnout in five of seven by-election held in Punjab. These unusually high turnouts are only corroborated by suspicious voting patterns that were recorded in a sizeable number of polling stations in these constituencies, indicating the possibility that genuine voters may not have been casting ballots.

Contrary to trends, female turnout was higher than male turnout in three constituencies (PS-21, PP-133 and PP-226). Although in most cases the difference was not significant, females turned up in lower numbers than men in all other constituencies.

In NA-107, the ECP set up 281 polling stations – 49 male, 46 female and 186 combined. The polling stations included 755 polling booths – 415 male and 340 female. Two hundred and eighty one polling stations were set up in NA-162 – 83 male, 84 female and 114 combined. In PP-21, of 129 polling stations, 19 each were male and female while 91 were combined. The polling stations included 425 polling booths – 240 male and 185 female. PP-26 had 129 polling stations – 54 male, 54 female and 21 combined. Of 364 polling booths, 195 were male-exclusive while 169 were for women. In PP-92, 111 polling stations were set up – 55 male and 56 female. They included 349 polling booths – 192 male and 157 female. One hundred and sixteen polling stations were established in PP-122 – 49 male, 48 female and 19 combined. Of 350 polling booths, 200 were male-exclusive and 150 were female-exclusive. In PP-129, 129 polling stations were set up – 18 male, 18 female and 93 combined. The polling stations included 380 polling booths – 202 male and 178 female. In PP-133, of 127 polling stations, 16 each were male and female while 95 were combined. The polling stations included 425 polling booths – 240 male and 185 female. In PP-226, 139 polling stations were established – 30 for males, 29 for females and 80 combined. The polling stations included 296 polling booths – 155 male and 141 female.

FAFEN deployed 287 trained observers to monitor the voting and counting processes inside pre-assigned sampled polling stations across the nine constituencies. The observers spent between 45 and 60 minutes in each polling station to document their observations and findings on a standardized checklist based on the provisions of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1976, Conduct of Elections Rules 1977, and instructional handbooks that the ECP has provided to election officials.

This preliminary report is based on the observation of 768 polling stations in nine constituencies – 212 male, 224 female and 341 combined, and reports sent by FAFEN staff prior to the by-elections. Some of FAFEN’s key findings include:

Suspicious Voting Patterns
FAFEN observers recorded suspicious voting patterns at a total of 71 polling booths of 58 polling stations, 39 of which were combined, 12 were male-exclusive and seven were female-exclusive. If polling is most efficient and each voter takes approximately one minute and 30 seconds for processing (checking of name, checking of CNIC, issuance of ballot paper, going behind secrecy screen, stamping a ballot and returning the stamp to the assistant presiding officer), about 45 ballots can be cast in one hour at a booth.

Therefore, an average rate per hour higher than 45 brings into question the speed with which votes were being processed. The rate of voting was higher than possible at 71 booths, as mentioned previously. The most number of polling booths where suspicious voting patterns were recorded was in PP-129 (27 booths at 21 polling stations), followed by PP-226 (19 booths of 16 polling stations), as shown in Table 1 below. The least incidence of suspicious voting was noted in PP-92, however, both polling stations in the constituency where such patterns were observed happened to be female-exclusive. There was no reason to suspect dubious voting in PS-21.

Indicative Turnout
According to FAFEN observers reporting from 220 randomly selected[1] polling stations, indicative voter turnout in seven by-elections was above 40% percent. In total, combined turnout in all nine constituencies was also relatively high at 46.91 per cent. The combined turnout at male polling stations was recorded at 44.44%, 41.65% at female polling stations and 52.82% at combined polling stations.

The highest turnout was recorded in PP-226 (63.12%), where male turnout was 63.02%, female turnout was 64.80% and combined turnout was 62.07%. The second highest turnout was seen in PS-21 (58.75%). Female turnout in the constituency was also higher (68.96%) than male turnout (57.94%) while combined turnout was 57.24%. PP-21 was followed by PP-133 and NA-162 where total turnouts were estimated at 53.97% and 53.34% respectively. In PP-129, NA-107, PP-26, PP-92 and PP-122 indicative turnouts were 47.0%, 43.20%, 41.07%, 36.16% and 19.93% respectively.

It is noteworthy that female turnout was higher in PS-21, PP-133 and PP-226. In PS-21, female turnout was 68.96% while male turnout was 57.94%. In PP-133 female and male turnouts were 56.24% and 41.23% respectively. Although an aberration, the higher female turnout in these constituencies would be a desirable outcome. However, circumstances raise doubts about the quality of polling and suggest that ballots were not cast by genuine voters.

Fraudulent Voting
Additional counterfoils were filled on the ballot books at 165 of the observed polling stations whereas ballot papers were issued without filling the counterfoils at 66 polling stations, indicating strong possibility that fraudulent votes were stuffed in ballot boxes. The least number of such cases, however, were observed in PP-226. Similarly, FAFEN observers reported from 20 polling stations that the numbers of Computerized National Identity Cards of voters as written on the counterfoils of the ballot books did not match the corresponding entries on the electoral rolls. Although the overall frequency of the incidence was relatively low, it again raises the possibility that fraudulent voting may have occurred.

Dubious thumb impressions were marked on the counterfoils of ballot books at the same angle with phasing out ink print at 164 polling stations. In absolute numbers, this was noted most frequently in PP-226 (26 polling stations) followed by PP-133 (24 polling stations) whereas in relative terms, the frequency was highest in PP-21 (10 of 22 polling stations). In the case of genuine voters, thumb impressions are marked in fresh, dark ink and are usually at varying angles. Dubious thumb impressions imply that they were fraudulently applied by others.

Moreover, election officials and polling agents were seen stamping ballot papers at three polling stations each while other unauthorized persons were also seen doing the same at 14 polling stations. The most cases were observed in PP-26, where polling agents were seen stamping ballots at one polling station and other unauthorized persons were seen doing so at five polling stations. No such incident was observed at any polling station in PS-21.

Unauthorized Persons Inside Polling Stations
According to FAFEN observers, security officials were present inside 682 polling stations. In 658 of these polling stations, policemen were seen inside polling stations while Army personnel, Frontier Constabulary and Rangers were present in the remaining 24 polling stations. Presence of policemen was highest in PP-26 (118 polling stations) followed by PP-226 (113 polling stations). Of a total of 17 polling stations were Army personnel were present, four each were in NA-162 and PP-26.

Under electoral rules, even at sensitive polling stations, police is only authorized to maintain order outside polling stations in order to ensure smooth polling. They can only enter polling stations or booths when requested by Presiding Officers. While attempts to influence voters were not observed, security officials were seen trying to persuade election officials to favour certain candidates at five polling stations in PP-92, PP-129, PP-133 and PP-226.

Moreover, armed civilians were seen inside 13 polling stations of five constituencies. While at times they appeared to have been in control of the electoral process, they were not seen trying to influence voters at any polling station.

FAFEN observer reports indicate the presence of local influential persons inside 20 polling stations of all constituencies except PS-21 and PP-122. In 10 polling stations of NA-107, NA-162, PP-92 and PP-226, some of these unauthorized persons were seen attempting to persuade voters to favour a certain political party or candidate. Similarly, they were seen trying to influence election officials at three polling stations – one each in NA-107, PP-129 and PP-133. A Federal Minister was seen trying to influence voters inside a polling station in NA-162 while officials of the Federal Government were seen in at least one polling station of PP-129.

Unauthorized persons carrying party symbols or wearing party badges were seen inside 67 polling stations. This occurrence was noted most frequently in PP-129 (22 polling stations) followed by NA-107 and NA-162 (10 polling stations each). Similarly, candidates or their workers were seen trying to persuade voters to favour a certain candidate in 11 polling stations, five of which were in NA-107.

They were also seen trying to influence election officials at one polling station in the same constituency. Certain political leaders and their workers were also seen trying to influence voters at nine polling stations, three of which were in NA-162. They also attempted to influence election officials in three polling stations of NA-162, PP-129 and PP-133 and were seen trying to manipulate policemen at two polling stations in NA-162 and PP-129.

According to FAFEN observers, polling officials tried to pressure voters to support certain parties or candidates at 10 polling stations, six of which were in PP-129 and three in NA-162.

FAFEN observers reported that people who had already voted were present in 40 polling stations. Election officials went behind secrecy screens to “assist” voters at four polling stations in NA-107, PP-122 and PP-129 while polling agents were seen doing the same at three polling stations in NA-162, PP-133 and PP-226. Other unauthorized persons also accompanied voters behind the screens at 12 polling stations, five of which were in PP-226.

Campaigning and Canvassing around Polling Stations
Violations of ECP code of conduct were observed in all the constituencies. Party camps were present outside 319 polling stations; in violation of election laws that bar the same within 400 yards of polling stations. The most number of party camps in any single constituency were seen in PP-129 (67) followed by PP-226 (56). Armed civilians were also present at party camps around 22 polling stations. Such display of arms may seriously inhibit voters from turning up to vote and/or compel them to vote under pressure.

Incidents of Violence
Ten incidents of violence were reported from polling stations in five constituencies. The highest incidence of electoral violence was seen in PP-129, where at least four scuffles are known to have occurred. Participants sustained major injuries in some brawls. Consequently, polling was reportedly suspended in at least two polling stations, but the probability that it was suspended in more polling stations is high. Among others, the violent incidents were reported at Polling Station Nos. 194 and 203 in NA-107; PS-29 in NA-162, PS Nos. 20 and 54 in PP-133 and PS-122 in PP-226.

A fight broke out between supporters of PML-N and PML-Q in PS-194 of NA-107 at 3:00pm. According to the FAFEN observer’s report, one participant was seriously injured and subsequently hospitalized while a few others sustained minor injuries. Another fight between supporters of the same parties was seen at PS-203 during the announcement of polling results. No injuries were reported.

In NA-162, a minor altercation was observed between supporters of PML-N and supporters of an independent candidate at PS-29, Girl’s High School Chichawatni. Similarly, in PP-226 a quarrel was witnessed between supporters of two contesting candidates at PS-122. Polling was not suspended at either polling station. According to FAFEN observers, no person was seriously harmed in the incidents.

In PP-133, two incidents of violence were observed at polling stations 20 and 54. At PS-20, supporters of PML-Q and PPP teamed up in a fight with supporters of an independent candidate. As a result, polling was suspended for about 25 minutes between 2:15pm and 2:40pm. At PS-54, polling was suspended for at least three hours between 2pm and 5pm because of a scuffle between supporters of PPP and PML-N. FAFEN observers did not report any injuries or damage to property in either case.

Interference with FAFEN Observers
Presiding Officers did not allow FAFEN observers to fully carry out their duties by barring them from observing the vote counts in four polling stations of PP-92 (PS Nos. 35, 52, 91 and 97) and PS-111 of PP-129.

FAFEN Recommendations
Having observed the aforementioned irregularities during the by-election, FAFEN recommends:
The ECP should ensure that security officials perform only their designated duty of maintaining law and order outside of polling stations and do not attempt to manage election officials.
The ECP should take disciplinary action against polling station officials who interfered with and influenced the voting process.

The ECP should reprimand all election officials who failed to enforce the election rules and laws.

The ECP and all provincial, district, and local election officials should administer each by-election with the same vigilance and attention to enforcing the law and procedures as during any general election. The result of any by-election not administered vigilantly should be voided.
To eliminate unauthorized people from being in polling stations:
1. Presiding Officers should be encouraged and provided adequate protections to use their magisterial powers.

2. All polling officials must be required to carry their Government Service Cards to prove their identity on Election Day.

3. Polling officials should ensure that only one polling agent representing each political party – and carrying proper identification from their party – is permitted in each polling booth.
4. Only people carrying proper identifications should be permitted inside polling stations and allowed to vote.

5. Adequate security checks should be performed in order to prevent unauthorized and armed persons in and around polling stations.

6. All polling officials must be required to carry their Government Service Cards to prove their identity on Election Day.

Adequate training of all polling officials must be ensured for all by-elections. Polling officials should ensure that all campaign materials and camps are removed from around the polling stations. More generally, given the consistent weaknesses in ECP by-election administration, by-elections should be minimized by restricting each candidate in general elections to contesting in only one constituency.