ISLAMABAD: A prominent Pakistani election monitoring network said on Monday its observers were not allowed to witness the vote tabulation process in 135 National Assembly constituencies by the Returning Officers (ROs) while seeking an investigation into this violation of the relevant election law.
The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has been monitoring electoral contests in the country since its formation in 2006. It is allowed to observe the consolidation of voting results under Section 238 of the Election Act, 2017, which opens up space for accredited monitoring organizations to determine the extent of transparency of an electoral contest.
Section 92 of the same law also requires the ROs 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 the Returning Officer to conduct the consolidation of the results in the presence of the contesting candidates and their election agents. Section 95(9) requires the Returning Officers to provide copies of Form-48 (Consolidated Statement of the Results of the Count Furnished by the Presiding Officers) and Form-49 (Final Consolidated Result).
“The Returning Officers (ROs) in 135 of 260 National Assembly constituencies did not adhere to these provisions, undermining the ECP’s efforts to maximize electoral transparency, which was generally maintained during the voting and counting processes at the polling stations,” FAFEN said in its statement.
“The Returning Officers did not allow FAFEN observers in 135 constituencies to observe the tabulation process –– 80 in Punjab, 23 in Sindh, 18 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 11 in Balochistan and all three in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT),” it added.
FAFEN noted that out of these 135 constituencies, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-backed independents won 46, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) 43 and Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) 28 seats.
It also informed that the ROs in 65 constituencies prohibited one or more candidates and their election agents from participating in the tabulation proceedings.
“The ECP [Election Commission of Pakistan] must probe the non-compliance of Returning Officers of its instructions to ensure electoral transparency and to determine responsibility as per Section 55 of the Elections Act, 2017, which empower the Election Commission to take action against erring election officials, public servants and persons in the service of Pakistan,” FAFEN added.
Pakistan’s election regulatory body has rejected rigging allegations raised by various political parties amid voting result delays which raised suspicion of election manipulation.
Caretaker Prime Minister also described the February 8 polls as largely fair, though he maintained he was not ruling out some incidents of election irregularities which could be addressed by ECP’s tribunals.