More transparency and strict enforcement of laws and procedures in the second phase of local government polls are necessary to avoid the shortcomings observed in the first phase of these elections in Sindh and Punjab, said the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) on Tuesday.
In a statement released from Islamabad, FAFEN urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to make greater practical investments in the transparency of the electoral processes and enforcement of electoral laws and procedures in an effort to further improve the quality of upcoming phases of the local government elections in Sindh, Punjab and Islamabad Capital Territory.
FAFEN acknowledged in its statement that the ECP had improved the quality of the trainings of its staff deputed in the local government elections, which in turn paid dividends. However, FAFEN’s direct observation of the local government elections on October 31 suggested that irregularities observed during General Elections 2013, as well as subsequent by-elections and local government elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), continued to persist.
“Such irregularities stem from weak control of ECP on Returning Officers and other officials who are deployed to perform election duties,” the statement said.
Based on its observations, FAFEN proposed the following recommendations as prerequisites for improving the Election Day processes for the remaining phases of the local government elections:
ECP should make polling schemes public as soon as possible for all districts where elections are going to be held, along with details of the type of polling stations, the number of male and female booths to be set up at each polling station, along with the number of voters allocated to each booth. Polling schemes must be made available on the ECP website.
No change in the polling scheme should be allowed after it is gazetted unless specifically approved by the ECP. Such changes should be posted on the ECP website, which is one of the top 1,000 websites in Pakistan that citizens’ access to acquire information.
ECP should reconcile polling schemes with the electoral rolls, as there have been reports of discrepancies in electoral rolls provided at the polling stations compared to the finalized polling schemes.
ECP should provide details of contesting candidates for all seats to be directly elected, including disaggregation by gender.
ECP should provide details of all seats where candidates are returned unopposed.
The process of accreditation of observers must be streamlined. The commitment of the ECP Secretariat to enhance electoral transparency must be translated through clear instructions to District Returning Officers, Returning Officers, Presiding Officers, and Security officials to ensure that they facilitate election observation instead of restricting it.
ECP should establish a high-level committee comprising senior officials to investigate allegations of irregularities and illegalities and address them on priority basis in order to improve ECP’s public image and credibility as the neutral custodian of the electoral processes.
District election commissioners should be empowered to facilitate independent monitoring of the Election Day management through teams of respected and honest individuals who would furnish independent reports to the Election Commission on the quality of the electoral processes.
ECP must enforce laws to prevent political parties and candidates from establishing camps around polling stations on the Election Day. Such presence of political workers around polling stations is one of the major causes of Election Day voter intimidation and violence.
Security forces should receive clear instructions to stay outside the polling stations unless they are asked by the presiding officers to enter. Their presence inside the polling stations and polling booths is intimidating to voters and compromises the authority of the presiding officers.
To help ensure that the election result management process is transparent, polling agents and neutral observers must be allowed to observe the vote count at the polling stations. In addition, media should be provided access to all venues where polling station results are consolidated.
Specific measures should be taken to create conducive environment for women’s voting such as deployment of female staff in female polling stations and booths, barring all men from such stations and booths and wherever possible deploying female police officers.
Reports of barring women from voting in some areas reported by media should be independently investigated by the ECP and elections must be declared null and void in those electoral areas if the allegations are proved true.