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60m people exercised their right to vote on Feb 8: Fafen

ISLAMABAD (PEN) : Approximately 60 million voters went to the polls in Pakistan on Feb 8 to elect their representatives in 265 National Assembly and 590 provincial assembly constituencies in one of the country’s most competitive political contests, says Fafen. 

 

The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) issued a report on Saturday, saying the elections followed two tumultuous years of political upheaval, discord and polarisation, which left behind a debris of constitutional confusions, judicial misadventures, communal stress, economic downturn and growing public distrust in electoral institutions – issues that must be taken up by the future government as its top priorities.Fafen added that despite a spiral of allegations by multiple political parties about not getting a level playing field as well as a spike in militant violence in some parts of the country, none of the political parties backed out of the electoral race.

All parties continued until the last minute their efforts to muster up public support, which augurs well for Pakistan’s struggling democracy.

In addition, the pre-election perception of an unlevel playing field does not seem to have prevented the accusing political parties from gaining electoral ground.

Notwithstanding the general perception that pre-election media freedoms were constricted and sporadic incidences of restrictions on expression and speech, in fact Pakistani print, electronic and digital media continued to contribute tremendously to strengthening the political and electoral process.

The media kept voters informed through their undiluted reporting, which helped voters make informed choices. Independent civil society groups deserve praise in particular for focusing attention on rights and liberties during the election process, including infringements of the rights of citizens and political parties.

The report said unfazed by a spate of scathing criticism from some political parties, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must particularly be acknowledged for having organised the country’s largest electoral exercise – with the greatest number of candidates and highest number of voters – in a reasonably orderly manner.

More than 1.1 million election officials performed election duties in a highly challenging political environment.

They ensured the integrity of voting and counting processes at the polling stations that largely remained free of controversy, notwithstanding sporadic complaints by political parties and candidates about not getting the election results forms to which they are legally entitled.

More than 0.7 million police and military officials stood guard across Pakistan and outside polling stations, ensuring peace and order on the election day against the backdrop of fears of militant and political violence.

The report added that whatever the reasons and explanations, the ECP’s delay in the preparation and announcement of preliminary election results overshadowed an otherwise orderly election, raising questions about the credibility of the election outcome.

In addition, the caretaker government’s suspension of cellular and internet services on election day – regardless of the security reasons – undermined years of parliamentary efforts to reform the election results management process through amendments to the Elections Act, 2017, which were meant to maximise the integrity, efficiency and transparency of electoral outcomes.

Fafen said the country had found a closure to a period of unsettling uncertainty that was not only exhausting for the people but also for the economy, with lingering inflation, unemployment and general disenchantment.

“Now it is the responsibility of political parties to bring to end their obstinate disengagement for a smooth transition of power in order to ensure the much-needed political stability in the country,” the report stressed.

“Many of the concerns raised by the political parties and their candidates need to be addressed on legal merit by the ECP as promptly as possible, while residual matters can be addressed by the election tribunals that will be formed and start working in less than two months,” the report observed.
Fafen Findings and Recommendations 

Based on Fafen’s assessment of the Form 47 (Provisional Consolidated Statement of the Result of the Count) from 235 National Assembly constituencies, as announced by the Election Commission, the voter turnout for these elections was 48.2 percent.

Islamabad witnessed the highest voter turnout with over 54.2 percent of registered voters participating in the polls across three NA constituencies, followed by Punjab with 51.7 percent voter turnout in 133 NA constituencies.

In Sindh, the voter turnout reached 43.9 percent across 56 NA constituencies; in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it was 41.4 percent across 40 constituencies; and in Balochistan, it was 35 percent across three NA constituencies.

Fafen analysis suggests that there are 25 NA constituencies where the number of ballots excluded from the count exceed the margin of victory – 23 in Punjab and one each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh.

The late delimitation of constituencies, triggered after announcement of the Seventh Digital Population Census days before the dissolution of the National Assembly in August 2023, delayed the elections beyond the constitutionally-stipulated 90-day period, and created a disadvantage for political parties and candidates in their election preparations.

The Feb 8, 2024, election followed a competitive and long campaign, but it lacked traditional fanfare.

There were sporadic incidents of irregularities, but the voting process on election day generally was smooth and orderly. In addition, the voting and counting processes remained accessible to media, observers and candidates and their agents.

Contrary to fears of disorder, discord and violence against the backdrop of a highly polarised political atmosphere and spike in militancy, the election day generally remained peaceful, orderly and organised amid heightened security measures by law enforcement agencies across the country.

Some political parties including the PTI raised their voices against what they called an unlevel playing field for their candidates. In many cases, the PTI claimed that their rallies were obstructed, candidates were arrested or coerced into withdrawing from the race.

The Fafen observers reported polling officials to be largely complying with the legally-prescribed processes of identification of incoming voters. Major political parties largely retained or improved their vote banks in GE-2024.

Despite enhanced use of technology and more sophisticated election management system, the Election Commission did not publish progressive polling station-wise results on its website.

Fafen said the ECP must immediately address the complaints of illegalities and irregularities by political parties and the candidates and initiate proceedings against those responsible under Section 55 of the Elections Act,