LAHORE – Heavy deployment of police inside polling stations, unlawful campaigning and suspicious voting patterns marred the by-elections on February 18 in three provincial constituencies of Sindh and Punjab, according to a preliminary observation report issued Tuesday by Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN).
Security personnel were present at 142 out of 183 observed polling stations (78%), according to reports from trained FAFEN observers. In 141 cases, policemen were seen inside the polling stations. The presence of policemen was the highest in PS-84 (59 polling stations), followed by PP-239 (53) and PS-73 (29). Under electoral rules, even at sensitive polling stations, security personnel are only authorised to maintain order outside the polling stations. They can only enter polling stations or booths when requested by the presiding officer.
Observers saw the workers of contesting candidates campaigning and canvassing in violation of elections laws at one third of the observed (62) polling stations. Most party camps or party workers were seen in PP-239 (42 polling stations), followed by PS-73 (11) and PS-84 (9). In addition, 11 incidents were reported in PP-239 of persuading voters within or around polling station to vote in favor of a specific candidate. One reported case was led by a polling official, another by police/security personnel, one by armed civilians, five by influential persons, and three by candidates or their supporters.
FAFEN’s methodologies for detecting suspicious voting patterns include scrutiny of the pace of voting and details of counterfoils in ballot books. FAFEN observers recorded suspicious voting patterns at 14 polling booths of 10 polling stations, 9 of which were combined and one was a female polling station. Most of these polling booths were in PS-73 (9 booths at 5 polling stations), followed by PS-84 (3 booths at 3 polling stations) and PP-239 (2 booths at 2 polling stations).
FAFEN deployed 87 observers to monitor the voting and counting processes inside pre-assigned sampled polling stations in the three constituencies. The observers documented their findings on a standardized checklist based on the provisions of the Representation of the Peoples Act (ROPA) 1976, Conduct of Elections Rules 1977, and instructional handbooks that the ECP has provided to election officials. FAFEN’s preliminary report is based on observation of 183 polling stations in three constituencies – 35 male, 42 female and 106 combined.