As the compilation of vote results continues for four consecutive days following the February 8 nationwide polls, the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) has called on the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to address the non-compliance of returning officers (ROs) with election laws. This non-compliance has overshadowed an otherwise mostly controversy-free voting and counting process at the polling stations.
Fafen, a non-governmental election watchdog, has urged the ECP to reinforce legal provisions ensuring transparency in all stages of the election results process, including the preparation of provisional and consolidated results in constituencies.
According to Fafen, Section 92 of the Elections Act, 2017 mandates returning officers to prepare and announce the Provisional Consolidated Statement of the Results of the Count (Form-47) in the presence of contesting candidates, their election agents, and authorized observers. Similarly, Section 95(1) requires ROs to conduct the consolidation of results in the presence of contesting candidates and their agents.
However, in 135 out of 260 National Assembly constituencies, ROs did not adhere to these provisions, particularly in not allowing Fafen observers to observe the tabulation process. The constituencies include 80 in Punjab, 23 in Sindh, 18 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 11 in Balochistan, and all three in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).
Among these 135 constituencies, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-backed independents won 46, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) 43, Pakistan Peoples Party-Parliamentarians (PPP-P) 28, unaffiliated independents 5, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan (JUI-P) 3, 2 each by Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML), and one each by various other parties.
Fafen observers also reported that in 65 constituencies, ROs prohibited one or more candidates and/or their election agents from participating in the tabulation proceedings.
Additionally, in 80 out of 125 National Assembly constituencies where Fafen observers were allowed to observe tabulation proceedings, there were instances of ROs opening tamper-evident bags containing Form-45 (Results of the Count) and Form-46 (Ballot Paper Account) without the presence of contesting candidates and agents.
Fafen observers noted that ROs in 53 constituencies pointed out arithmetic errors in Form-45, asking presiding officers to correct them before resending electronically to the Commission.
Furthermore, the chaotic environment at tabulation centers in 66 constituencies was attributed to long queues of vehicles carrying officials and election materials without proper arrangements for seating and food.
Fafen emphasized the need for the ECP to investigate the non-compliance of ROs, ensuring electoral transparency and holding individuals accountable according to Section 55 of the Elections Act, 2017. While parliamentary reforms may be necessary, immediate action is crucial to address operational challenges and loopholes in the election result management process.