Friday August 12, 2022

NA-240 by-polls: ‘Low turnout overshadows voting, counting processes’

June 21, 2022

ISLAMABAD: The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) on Monday released a report on the NA-240 by-election in Karachi, revealing that the abysmal turnout overshadowed generally-compliant voting and counting processes in the election.

According to the Fafen report, the elections were held on a working day that deterred a majority of voters from casting their ballots in the NA-240 (Korangi Karachi-II) by-polls, and due to which, the election largely remained orderly, but was overshadowed by two high-profile incidents of violence.

The report is based on the observation of 67 polling stations and 247 polling booths set up in the constituency by a total of 18 non-partisan and accredited observers - eight men and 10 women - and also includes the observation of the counting process at 13 polling stations.

According to the Fafen observers, the presence of the party camps in close vicinity of the polling stations was one of the most persistent and prominent violations of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s code of conduct issued for the political parties and contesting candidates.

The supporters of the rival candidates had set up their camps around 88 percent of the observed polling stations. The Fafen observers reported the presence of armed men at 22 percent of these camps. While these camps are generally set up by the candidates to facilitate the voters to check their serial numbers on electoral rolls, they are also primary triggers of violence, particularly in hotly contested neighborhoods. One such clash between the rival parties in the NA-240 outside polling station no. 52 claimed the life of a man.

Earlier in the day, an incident of firing on the car of a key leader of a contesting party in Landhi area may have created a sense of fear in the constituency, discouraging the potential voters to go out and vote.

Inhabited by mostly workers employed in the surrounding industrial areas, the constituency registered an abysmal 8.38 percent voter turnout as compared to 37.38 percent in the general elections-2018.

According to Form-47 (provisional consolidated statement of results of the count), only 44,388 – 31,677 men and 12,711 women – of a total of 529,855 registered voters – 294,385 men and 235,470 women – exercised their right to vote on June 16. As many as 440 ballots were excluded from the count, while the margin of victory between the winner and runner-up was merely 64 votes.

The Fafen observers reported that the voting process remained largely compliant with the procedure provided in the Elections Act 2017, the Elections Rules 2017, and the ECP’s instructional handbooks. However, they reported some procedural irregularities at the polling stations, such as setting up of party camps outside the polling stations, missing or improperly placed secrecy screens at the polling booths and skipping out necessary voter verification steps indicated the need for greater investments in training as well as increased scrutiny of the officials before their selection for the election duties.

The by-election was held due to the death of Iqbal Muhammad Ali Khan, who had won the seat in 2018 general elections on Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s (MQMP) ticket by securing 61,165 (34 percent) of the polled votes, while the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) Muhammad Asif was the runner-up by bagging 30,535 (17 percent) of the polled votes.

Seven political parties, including Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQMP), Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, Pakistan Muslim League (PML), Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), and the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) had fielded their candidates for the by-election, while 18 candidates contested independently.

The ECP had set up 309 polling stations – 100 male, 99 female and 110 combined. As many as 208 polling stations had more than 1,200 voters assigned to them, which was above the legally advisable limit under Section 59 (3) of the Elections Act, 2017.

The election law had included a maximum limit of voters to be assigned to a polling station in the interest of smooth voting and to ensure that the polling stations do not get cramped and crowded with the voters.The law requires the Returning Officers (ROs) to document categorical reasons for assigning more voters than the permissible limit at any polling station.