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December 1, 2018

Growing trend of votes for losing candidates in elections

National

December 1, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The general elections in country have witnessed a growing trend of votes for losing candidates with the percentage of such votes in 2018 elections reaching all-time high, as 31.1 million votes (about 57 percent or over two-third of votes polled) did not translate into representation in legislatures.

Nearly three percent of all votes polled during 2018 elections were declared invalid and excluded from the count by election authorities. According to the Final Consolidated Result (Form-49) of 268 NA constituencies, 1,693,558 ballots were not included in the count as they did not fulfill the legal criteria for validity. In comparison to other regions, the proportion of invalid ballot papers was largest in Balochistan, where nearly six percent of the polled votes were declared invalid. Similarly, four percent of the votes polled in Sindh, three percent each in Punjab and KP and one percent in ICT were declared invalid.

The assessment of Form-45 reveals that more than a quarter of the forms (22,319 or 28 percent) were either inaccurate, unduly filled or were only partially available. The majority of such forms (17,722) were unduly filled.

According to the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) election observation and analysis, ‘non-representativeness’ of the First-Past-the-Post System Election results in Pakistan are decided according to the First-Past-the-Post (FPTP). In FPTP, voters can choose only one candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins the election. The votes cast for losing candidates and the votes of winning candidates in excess of those required for victory play no part in determining the election outcome in this voting system and are therefore not translated into representation.

“Nearly 57 percent of polled votes (31.1 million) did not translate into any representation during the 2018 elections, which is considerably greater than the unrepresented votes in 2013 elections. The proportion of votes that went to losing candidates declined slightly between 2002 elections and 2008 elections but has been on the rise,” Fafen said. As per the historical trend of votes not translating into representation, it was 52.8 percent in 2002 elections, 49.64 percent in 2008, 51.04 percent in 2013 elections and a record 57 percent in the recent elections.

In addition to votes for losing candidates, the 2018 winning candidates received 11.8 percent ‘unnecessary’ votes in excess of the number of votes required to win the election, therefore, having no impact on the election outcome.

The number of excess votes significantly declined in 2018 elections as compared to 2013 elections, which indicates increasingly close contests and smaller margins of victory for winning candidates.

Prior to July 25 elections, the percentage of excess votes had been on the rise in the preceding three general elections, growing from 15.1 percent in 2002 elections to 20.4 percent in 2013 elections.

Regionally, votes for losing candidates have been higher in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa than in other regions since 2008 elections, while 2002 elections saw this issue mostly in Punjab and ICT. The increased competitiveness of elections might have played a role in reducing the number of excess (or ‘unnecessary’) votes, and this competitiveness also contributed to the increase in votes for losing candidates.

However, neither of these kinds of votes (excess/unnecessary and votes for losing candidates) translate into any political representation in legislatures for citizens. In total, in 2018 elections more than two-thirds of all votes – 57 percent polled for losing candidates and 11.8 percent excess votes of winning candidates – were not contributing to any political representation.

This situation, Fafen emphasises, warrants reforms in the voting system. A better alternative to minimise such votes is one of the variations of Proportional Representation system, which is the most used voting system in the world. In the PR system, seats are allocated to political parties according to the proportion of votes received by them. Therefore, votes are never unrepresented and every vote counts.

Nationally, 8.45 million additional voters cast ballots in 2018 elections than in the preceding elections, marking a growth of 18.3 percent in voter turnout between 2013 elections and 2018 elections. This significant surge in the polled votes coincided with an unprecedented increase in voter registration between the two general elections – growing by 22.9 percent from 86.18 million in 2013 to 105.9 million in 2018.

A historical comparison between the growth rates of registered voters and of polled votes for NA constituencies suggests a positive relationship, with the registered votes and polled votes growing simultaneously. However, there is no clear link between their rates of growth. For example, the voting population grew by 12.4 percent (8.88 million) between 2002 and 2008, while polled votes increased by 18.9 percent during this period.

Between 2008 and 2013, registered voters increased by 6.7 percent (5.39 million), while polled votes increased significantly by 29.7 percent. From 2013 to 2018, the number of registered voters increased by 22.9 percent, but actual voters increased only by 18.3 per cent. This anomaly may be explained by the exponential increase in the number of registered voters in the five years between the 2013 and 2018 elections (19.77 million), which exceeded the increase registered in the 10 years between the 2002 and 2013 elections (14.27 million).

On the poll observation front, it said while independent election observation is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan; 2018 elections was unique as it was held under a law that recognises for the first time the right of citizen groups to observe elections domestically.

The Election Commission of Pakistan accredited local and international observers to observe the election process and have access to polling stations, counting of votes and consolidation of results.

However, Fafen observers noted thin presence of international observers particularly European Union – Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) at polling stations. International observers were seen at only 15 out of the total 57,832 observed polling stations – 11 in Punjab, two in Sindh and one each in ICT and KP.

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