Prior to the general elections, FAFEN is concerned about the poor quality of Karachi’s LG polls.
Just a few months before the scheduled date for general elections, concerns have been raised about the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)'s oversights regarding the conduct of local government elections in two urban divisions of Sindh and their overall poor quality.
It was warned that if political parties don’t work together to fix them, the country’s political and economic stability could be affected in the future.
The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN)’s election observation report, which was released on Thursday, made this suggestion.
FAFEN noted the following at the very beginning of the eight-page report:
“Controversies over the quality of electoral processes do not bode well, especially when political parties are preparing for General Elections that must be held in accordance with the Constitution by October 11, 2023.”
FAFEN cited legal and procedural flaws in campaigning and canvassing both inside and outside of polling stations, as well as a continuation of the first-phase ballot issuance process in the second phase.
It added that “weaknesses in the legislative framework that governs elections” are the source of many of these controversies.
The network suggested that all political actors engage in extensive negotiations to address these flaws and unite for electoral reforms regardless of political affiliation.
It stated, “The process of democratization will continue to weaken and the public trust in democracy and its ability to improve the social and economic well-being of the people will also continue to weaken unless elections lead to political stability.”
Legitimate concerns FAFEN noted that political parties had legitimate concerns that needed to be addressed by making use of the regulatory space that was available in order to hold truly “inclusive” elections and reduce the likelihood of major political parties boycotting polls in the future.
It was noted that polling agents were prohibited in at least four instances. On the basis of the pretext that the polling agent did not have the necessary authorization, the agents belonged to PPP (two), PTI, and JI (one each).
One incident in which a candidate’s polling agents were restricted during the counting process at a polling station was also reported by observers.
At 74% of the observed polling stations, FAFEN observers reported that the presiding officers provided copies of Form-XI to candidates or their polling/election agents, and observers at 64% of the observed polling stations.
Low participation Despite the “impressive” participation in the districts of Badin, Jamshoro, Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Allah Yar, Thatta, and Malir, FAFEN noted that the boycott by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) saw relatively lower participation in the districts of Karachi’s Central, East, West, Korangi, and Kemari, as well as a low participation in Hyderabad.
With the exception of Malir, it fell below 20% in most districts of the Karachi Division, whereas it was higher than 40% in Hyderabad.
Irregularities FAFEN noted that the ECP had been questioned as a result of the results’ lengthy delays.
It was also mentioned that, despite allegations of manipulation and rigging, the consolidated results for districts in the Hyderabad Division are still awaited, despite the fact that the provisional results from the Karachi Division were made public within two days.
In its initial notification for the second phase, dated June 10, 2022, the ECP had set aside four days after the election to consolidate the results, according to the report. However, the deadline had passed.
FAFEN observers noted that the polling station result forms—Form-XI (Statement of the Count)—were to blame for the issues in this regard.
This issue had first surfaced in the first phase and then resurfaced nearly six months later in the second phase.
According to the report, in some cases, presiding officers did not properly fill out the result forms, leaving blank spaces for recording the names of polling stations, registered voters, gender-disaggregated number of votes polled, and the signatures of polling officials. This could indicate that the officers did not receive adequate training.
According to FAFEN, observers interviewed approximately two-thirds of the presiding officers deputed for Sunday’s elections who indicated that they had previous experience managing a polling station.
Recommendations In order to improve the management of election day, FAFEN recommends tighter enforcement of the code of conduct regarding campaigning and canvassing on election day, the establishment of polling booths with adequate spacing, compliance with the procedures for voter identification and ballot issuance, the availability of female staff at female polling booths, and the provision of basic facilities at the polling stations prior to the General Elections.