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EU Mission raises serious questions on 2018 polls’ counting process

By Fakhar Durrani
October 28, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) in its final report has raised serious question on the process of counting, transmission and tabulation of Pakistan’s general elections 2018 results.

The EUEOM which has unveiled its final report on Pakistan’s general elections 2018 the other day, has raised some serious questions on the transparency of the polls and ECP’s performance. “The whole process lacked transparency leaving room for allegations of electoral malpractices”, observes the Mission in its report.

As per the report, the EUEOM encountered significant challenges and difficulties before and during its deployment to Pakistan for the 25 July elections. The European Union had previously deployed election observation missions to Pakistan, in 1997, 2002, 2008 and 2013, but did not face the problems that in 2018 substantially affected EUEOM standard modus operandi.

The Mission also observed that the ECP did not provide observers and journalists unimpeded access to critical stages of the pre and post-election day period, including recounts. The report also observed that the civil society organisations particularly TDEA/Fafen observation in 2018 was less visible in the field than in 2013.

“TDEA/Fafen’s preliminary report mainly highlighted positive aspects of the elections, but also identified procedural irregularities such as the lack of transparency in counting, slow tabulation and the delayed announcement of provisional results. Overall, TDEA/Fafen observation in 2018 was less visible in the field than in 2013. Observers in the regions were reluctant to share information and their overall assessment of the election process was less critical”, the report says.

The report further says that the EU observers noted examples of inconsistent implementation of recounting procedures. Provisional results showed that the margin of victory in around one third of all national and provincial assembly constituencies met the condition for recounts. The ECP stated that recounts took place in about 100 national and provincial assembly constituencies, of which 25 recounts were initiated directly by the ECP. However, after election day, the ECP failed to inform the public via its website where recounts were taking place. The ECP website did not show the changes made to updated provisional result forms as old forms were simply replaced by the updated ones.

As per the final report, The PTI, the PML-N and the PPP joint share of exposure in all media was 81 per cent, including within the news on electoral matters. Overall the PML-N was the most featured party. However, up to two-thirds of its coverage was negative in tone, including on court cases against the party leadership and on prominent defectors. The coverage of the PPP was mostly neutral or positive, and predominantly afforded to the party’s campaign activities. The PTI was also featured in either a neutral or positive manner. The PTI leader was by far the most quoted political figure across the media landscape, which was particularly beneficial in such a divisive campaign environment.

“Unlike in previous missions, the EUEOM faced unprecedented delay in the deployment of its observers. Due to a series of bureaucratic delays, including issuing visas and obtaining accreditation from the ECP, long-term observers arrived in Pakistan later than planned. Furthermore, the last-minute cancellation by the ECP of accreditation that had already been issued to the mission’s national staff meant that on election day the majority of teams observed voting and counting without the assistance of an interpreter,” says the report.

The mission in its final report further claims, “Despite constant efforts, meetings with two main interlocutors, the ECP and the judiciary and the various courts, were very limited or did not take place at all. During the deployment of the EUEOM, core team analysts met only five times with ECP officials despite numerous official requests for regular meetings. All requests for meetings with the judiciary and the high courts in the provinces were either denied or not replied to, and no information regarding complaints and appeals was shared with the Mission. As per methodology, EUEOMs establish regular meetings and have almost daily contacts with the election administration bodies and the judiciary as well as the courts.”

“Provisional results showed that the margin of victory in around one third of all national and provincial assembly constituencies met the condition for recounts. The ECP stated that recounts took place in about 100 national and provincial assembly constituencies, of which 25 recounts were initiated directly by the ECP. EU observers were present at several recounts and observed that, in most cases, candidates and party agents were inside the room, while journalists were not allowed in. EU observers noted examples of inconsistent implementation of recounting procedures”, says the report.

The ECP’s communication after Election Day was mainly confined to responding to allegations and criticism from political parties. The Election Commission has not exercised its broad powers to enquire about allegations of fraud.

Similarly the report has also highlighted lack of media coverage to the opposition parties who staged protest against the alleged rigging. However, none of these events were reported on prime time TV news, as editors were advised against any coverage that might distort the image of an overall acceptance of the results.

“Concerted efforts to label the elections as “free and fair” were evident in news stories. State actors continued to exert pressure on news editors, who in turn resorted to self-censorship. A multitude of reports on electoral malpractices circulated on social media, but no investigation followed. The official post-election narrative had already been defined on election day, when all news channels muted the statement of the PML-N leader, Shahbaz Sharif, in contrast to the live coverage of Imran Khan marking his ballot and addressing the public.

The most popular, liberal-leaning TV channels, Geo News and AaJ TV, were reportedly coerced to instruct anchors to divert election night debate away from irregularities and to not to challenge the military’s role”, says the report.