The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) has urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to consider ordering a re-poll for NA-75 Sialkot per its powers under Section 9(1) of the Election Act, 2017 in polling stations where results got delayed.
“The ECP promptly noticed delays in transmission of 20 polling stations’ results from the presiding officers to the returning officer. It withheld the preliminary constituency result pending an inquiry into the reported disappearance of presiding officers and election material,” Fafen observed in its report on by-elections held from February 16 to 21, 2021.
During that period, by-elections were held on five provincial and three National Assembly constituencies.
Fafen deployed 220 citizen observers—166 men and 54 women—who sent reports from 690 (or 48 per cent) of the 1,429 polling stations established across the eight constituencies. They witnessed the counting processes at 159 (or 11 percent) of the polling stations.
All observers except three in PS-43 Sanghar, NA-45 Kurram Agency-I, and NA-221 Tharparkar were allowed inside the polling stations to observe the polling.
The observers’ initial reports suggest that an average of 1.7 legal or procedural irregularities took place per polling station across the eight constituencies. On average, 2.2 breaches of the due process occurred per polling station in PB-20 Pishin-III, 1.8 each in PS-43 Sanghar-III and PP-51 Gujranwala, 1.7 each in PS-88 Malir-II and NA-45 Kurram-I, and 1.6 each in NA-75 Sialkot-IV and PK-63 Nowshera-III. The report stated that the common violations pertained to the illegal campaigning and canvassing in the polling stations’ limits, undue crowding at polling stations, and poor enforcement of Covid-19 protocols.
It added while electoral and political violence incidents had subsided during the last two general elections and in-between by-elections, happenings in NA-75 warrant bold actions by the ECP to stop the militarisation of future elections.
The Fafen report held the police and security forces responsible for the firing incidents outside the polling stations in NA-75 and the overnight disappearance of presiding officers of 20 polling stations and critical election material, including ballots, saying that it was their duty to ensure safety and prompt delivery of election material to the office of the returning officer.
To tackle situations like these, Fafen said, the ECP should consider exercising its powers under Section 55 of the Elections Act, 2017. “It should penalise, as per law, all public servants and election officials who are found involved in obstructing polls’ impartial and fair conduct and influencing results.”
However, the report stated that Fafen believes that mere disciplinary action, provided under the law, against election officials and suspension or withdrawal of public servants and persons in Pakistan’s service is not proportionate to the gravity of the offences listed in Section 55(3).
These include: “Obstruction, or prevention, or attempts to obstruct or prevent, the conduct of a fair and impartial poll; interference or attempts to interfere with a voter when he casts his vote; influencing or attempts to influence in any manner the polling staff or a voter; any other acts calculated to influence the result of the election; or disobeying any order, or avoiding to carry out any instruction issued by the commission.”