Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), a coalition of 42 leading civil society organizations established in 2006, offers the following preliminary observations on General Election 2013. These reflections are based on FAFEN’s unprecedented observation of General Elections 2008 and 60 by-elections; political and electoral violence monitoring since 2010; statistical assessments of the 2012 electoral roll and voters’ list display period; and direct monitoring since February 2013 by 400 FAFEN long-term observers in every district and constituency of the country.
These comments also are informed by summary data received electronically from every part of the country, based on Election Day observation by more than 41,000 trained and accredited neutral citizen observers. FAFEN’s 2013 election observation involves twice as many observers as in 2008 and is by far the largest such effort ever undertaken in Pakistan. FAFEN also is completing data analysis for 272 simultaneous Parallel Vote Tabulations (PVTs) for each National Assembly constituency seat, the largest set of PVTs attempted anywhere in the world.
FAFEN is releasing today a detailed preliminary report, primarily about the pre-election period, including recommendations. In the near future, full reports will be released with all data and analysis related to the PVTs and observations of the processes of voting, ballot and vote counting, and consolidation of election results.
All FAFEN election observation activities are based on the Constitution and laws of Pakistan as well as global best practice standards for elections. In addition, these General Elections are the first held since Pakistan ratified in 2010 the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), accepting additional legal obligations with respect to all elections. FAFEN observers adhere to the 2012 Global Principles for Non-Partisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organizations.
FAFEN’s observations and recommendations are made with all due respect for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and for all political parties, candidates and other participants in the election process. FAFEN’s goal is to document its observations for the consideration of voters and all election stakeholders and to make detailed recommendations towards the improvement of future elections in Pakistan. In particular, FAFEN aims to present a framework for electoral reforms for consideration and action by the newly-elected 14th National Assembly.
Fears of terrorism and targeted violence did not deter Pakistanis in most parts of the country from going to almost 70,000 polling stations on May 11, 2013, to exercise their democratic rights in an historic election that will pave the way for the country’s first democratic transition from one civilian government to another. FAFEN congratulates and commends the people of Pakistan for their resilience and resolve in the face of direct threats to the country’s commitment to democracy.
General Election 2013 was notable for colorful and competitive campaigning in Punjab, contrasted by lackluster canvassing and targeted terrorism in southern Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Kukhtunkhwa (KP). Citizens expressed a renewed interest in taking control of the state, which has seen civilian governments repeatedly coming to power through low-turnout elections, interspersed with periods of controversial military rule. The relatively high voter turnout and public enthusiasm for this election augurs well for democratic consolidation, bringing potential for more sustained citizen engagement and improved public accountability and governance.
However, the keen interest of the electorate across Pakistan should not overshadow the incidents of irregularities, fraud and lax enforcement of election law and regulations before and on Election Day. These persistent problems demand serious renewed efforts towards electoral reform, including a unified and consistent body of electoral laws, which FAFEN has been pursuing in earnest since 2008.
The Election Commission of Pakistan deserves significant credit for administering these elections, including implementation of several positive reforms and innovations that were improvements compared to the past. In Punjab and some parts of Sindh, preliminary evidence from more than 41,000 FAFEN observers and robust media reports indicates that the election does reflect the free will of the electorate through a relatively fair process.
In other parts of the country -- Balochistan, KP, and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) -- it is more difficult to say whether the elections were fair because of a wave of terror unleashed by Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or “the Pakistan Taliban”) against candidates and supporters of the political parties that were part of the previous coalition government – Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP), Awami National Party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Meanwhile, in Balochistan, armed insurgents of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) used terror tactics aimed at curtailing election activities in Baloch-majority districts.
The pre-election violence claimed more than 400 lives and injured at least 1,000 additional people, according to FAFEN violence monitoring, making General Election 2013 one of the most deadly elections in the country’s history. The wave of terror, however, was not met with an effective counter-attack by state security forces, raising concerns of patronage of certain political interests.
In addition, preliminary reports indicate that, as in past elections, women in some areas of KP and FATA were barred from voting, such that the free will of the full electorate was not expressed on Election Day. FAFEN has advocated since 2008 that ECP should not validate election results in any National or Provincial Assembly constituency where women are barred from voting in any single electoral area.
In Karachi, it is impossible to conclude whether the will of the electorate has been expressed. The reasons include a combination of pervasive pre-election violence, last-minute electoral boycotts, frequent obstruction of neutral election observers by MQM party workers, tangible evidence of fraud and irregularities, and significant administrative failures that are likely to have disenfranchised some voters.
Examples of problems reported from around the country by FAFEN observers include 74 cases in which observers were barred from polling stations, 13 cases of violence against observers and 78 other violent incidents. Observers also reported at least 62 unauthorized changes in the polling scheme, including women\\\'s polling booths not being set up.
General Election 2013 included a mixture of forward and backward steps in terms of electoral transparency and accountability. For the most part, the caretaker governments at the center and the four provinces were impartial and played a positive role. The contributions of the judiciary to the elections also must be acknowledged, but FAFEN believes that steps are needed to restrain or reduce the involvement of the judiciary in future elections. Returning Officers’ inconsistent and arbitrary handling of the candidate scrutiny process had the potential to undermine the credibility of the elections altogether. In addition, the intrusiveness of the senior judiciary in electoral matters is deeply problematic. The ECP and its decisions should be insulated from both executive and judicial authorities in order to protect its independence, as enshrined in the Constitution.
Most ECP measures gained political acceptance, including the bold decision to use new nomination papers without presidential approval. However, other ECP steps such delimitation of three National Assembly and seven Provincial Assembly constituencies in Karachi were compelled by a Supreme Court decision just before the announcement of the election schedule, which created suspicion. FAFEN opposed the last-minute delimitation because the distribution of parliamentary seats nationwide requires corrective action. For example, there are 14 seats for 3.2 million registered voters in Balochistan as compared to 12 seats for 1.7 million voters in FATA.
While the country rightly celebrates the transition from one civilian government to another as a democratic milestone, the 14th Parliament should take up the long-pending agenda of electoral reforms to further cement public trust in electoral processes. This trust gained strength with the enactment of the 18th and 20th Amendments to the 1973 Constitution – a unique political consensus achieved between 2008 and 2013 that has minimized to some extent the influence of state institutions in electoral processes. However, there is still much more work to do to ensure the quality of future elections. FAFEN looks forward to working in partnership with the ECP and the 15th Parliament on this important electoral reform agenda.