Efficiency of the Election Commission of Pakistan

Is it pre-poll rigging?
By Dr Mahreen Bhutto
DAWN: Monday, July 2, 2007

THE efficiency of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is once again being questioned after the publication of provisional computerised draft electoral lists (DELs). Opposition parties have been protesting against the exclusion of over 20 million potential voters and countless errors in DELs.

A transparent electoral process is the main ingredient of a true democratic system and the registration of voters in an honest manner is the first step to holding free and fair polls. However, the present regime’s democratic credentials in this regard have remained questionable from the beginning.

The local bodies’ elections under the newly-introduced devolution plan in 2001, the presidential referendum, polls in 2002 and the local bodies’ elections in 2005 were all rigged. There is valid reason, therefore, for scepticism over the fairness of the forthcoming polls, especially because the exclusion of millions of eligible voters has reinforced fears about their transparency.

In the 2005 local bodies’ elections, Chief Minister Arbab Rahim mobilised the entire state apparatus to make or break candidates. Despite resistance by opposition parties, he bifurcated Hyderabad , Dadu, Jacobabad, Mirpurkhas and Larkana districts and distributed the newly created districts among feudals and his favourites to ensure the success of candidates backed by the ruling coalition as the district governments’ nazims.

The electoral process of by-elections in some constituencies was marred as the chief minister himself led rallies in support of his candidates and used state machinery at will.

While the ECP kept on about an election code conduct, its enforcement was nowhere to be seen in these polls. For instance, numerous complaints by the PPP to the ECP fell on deaf ears. Elections were held amidst armed clashes, rigging and the snatching of ballot boxes by supporters of the ruling party’s candidates.

Complaints regarding last-minute changes at polling stations and the non-provision of material to the polling staff were aplenty. Thus there is some validity to the views of political parties that the integrity of the ECP has not been above board.

Regarding the new DELs, one billion rupees were spent on the preparation of computerised lists, prepared under a USAID-funded project and supervised by the International Foundation of Election System in collaboration with the ECP. But their publication was delayed. These were to be finalised by May 30 after their display for review in January. Final lists will now be on display at the beginning of the last quarter of 2007.

The government has set up 45,403 display centres, with 11,047 in Sindh where teachers have to facilitate eligible voters, thus making their accessibility difficult.

Those who are 18 years or above on January 1, 2007, and have computerised NICs or old ones can be enrolled as voters. A number of forms are available at the centres for registration, complaints and correction. For revisions, voters, after filling out the appropriate form(s), have to appear before a judicial magistrate or civil judge. The magistrate will then record his findings regarding the claim of voter within 10 days after July 3 — the last date for review of the rolls. The forms will then be forwarded to the ECP for further action. All this is a time-consuming exercise.

According to the data of DELs released by the ECP, there are 52,102,428 registered voters — 20 million less than those who had voted in 2002. Apparently, 4.8 million names have been dropped in Sindh alone.

The ECP attributes exclusions to the fact that only those voters, who possessed CNICs were enrolled as it helped eliminate bogus voters. It says that the enrolment of those who had registration of votes in more than one area had been deleted. The fact that voters did not possess computerised NICs doesn’t disqualify them from being registered as voters. They should have been allowed an opportunity to prove their identity to get their names inserted in the electoral lists.There could be other reasons as well, and reports indicate that enumerators didn’t reach each and every household to obtain particulars or they didn’t collect the forms from voters.

The display centres have been wearing a deserted look in the absence of proper publicity. The staff there has been restrained from providing lists to political parties’ representatives to get these copied, but it is favouring those with influence. There are complaints that the staff of the display centres goes missing after 2pm although they have to be present until 5pm. Only men are deputed in the centres and in view of some cultural constraints in rural areas women do not feel free to visit these.

There are several errors pertaining to changes in area, wrong particulars etc in the DELs, etc. As far as Sindh is concerned, there have been complaints that wrong details have been entered regarding people’s surnames as the rolls have been prepared by those who are not familiar with those living in Sindh and their areas.

The PPP had obtained the highest number of polled votes in 2002 i.e. 7.8 million. But as per the current lists, a large number of eligible PPP voters have not been enrolled. PPP parliamentarians describe it as an attempt to cut their electoral strength in areas which are historically PPP strongholds.

For instance, in Larkana, in the home constituency of Benazir Bhutto, 95,000 voters have not been registered. According to PPP MNA Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, 15,000 potential voters have not been enrolled in his constituency. In Jacobabad (NA 208 — the constituency of Mir Ejaz Jakhrani), 64,000 voters have not been registered. Another parliamentarian says the names of 8,000 voters registered last time in the winning polling stations of the PPP were deleted. In Khairpur district, 892,800 were registered for the 2002 polls — the display list now shows 557,841. All this indicates pre-poll rigging.

Potential women voters in rural areas are hindered by illiteracy and poor access to Nadra offices. Moreover, the male members of their families don’t encourage them to obtain CNICs.

The opposition parties would be well advised to go through draft rolls as quickly as possible. They should mobilise their cadre. They must pool their resources, individually or collectively, to collect the particulars of voters and compare them with draft rolls at display centres. They should help their voters in following the laid down procedure for inclusion of new entries or objections.

They could set up camps, guide their electorate, accompany voters to the courts of concerned magistrates without wasting time to see that they are enrolled properly.

As for the ECP, it should ensure that the registration and correction process is smooth, inclusive and without hitches or errors, otherwise the next elections would hold no credibility.

The writer is a PPP-P member of the Sindh Assembly: bhuttomahreen@yahoo.com

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