The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) observed the electoral process over the past several months and watched the May 11 election in all parts of the country. The commission carried out detailed observation of the electoral process in 57 National Assembly constituencies, – 8 in Balochistan, 13 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 19 in Punjab and 17 in Sindh – before the polls and on the polling day. It also observed the election process in seven National Assembly constituencies (five in Sindh, two in Punjab) where minority communities have substantial vote. While a detailed report on HRCP’s election observation project is under preparation it has been considered appropriate to issue a preliminary report containing an overall review of the Election 2013.

1. HRCP wishes to place on record its debt to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for facilitating HRCP observers’ access to polling stations. The commission also thanks the polling staff for helping its observers in carrying out their mission.

2. Before proceeding with this overview of Election 2013, HRCP should like to express its satisfaction that all those who kept doubts about the election being held at all alive till the eve of polls were proved wrong and that by marginalizing the enemies of the electoral process the people of Pakistan once again affirmed their faith in electoral democracy. For this they deserve to be felicitated.

3. HRCP acknowledges the efforts made by the ECP to prepare computerised electoral rolls but the first draft rolls had so many flaws and gaps that the process of preparing corrected lists had to be extended till the announcement of the poll schedule. HRCP believes the gap between male and female voters is still too large to be accepted as correct. Besides, the pattern of dividing votes on the basis of Block Code and Silsila was properly understood neither by the poll staff nor the voters.

HRCP recommends that the legal obligation to review the electoral rolls on year to year basis should be strictly honoured and the election staff and the political parties given adequate training in the use of new lists a considerable period in advance of the polls.

4. For the 2013 election no fresh delimitation of constituencies was carried out though the need for doing so was obvious. Since it will not be fair to delimit constituencies without carrying out the much delayed head count in the country, HRCP recommends that the government must give due priority to holding the national census and fresh delimitation of constituencies should be carried out well before the next general election.

5. During the phase of nomination of candidates and scrutiny of their papers undue importance was given to the enforcement of the eligibility criteria and bases of disqualification added to Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution during the Ziaul Haq regime. Many of these conditions are liable to be subjectively interpreted and should have no place in any scheme of democratic elections. These conditions unnecessarily and illegitimately divide the people.

HRCP recommends that Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution should be restored to their original shape in the constitution of 1973.

6. The pre-poll environment was seriously marred by large-scale violence that denied a significant number of candidates and voters of a tension-free climate for campaigning and voter-candidate interaction. The authorities did not succeed in ensuring level playing ground to all parties, their candidates, activists and voters.

The failure of the authorities to enrol members of the Ahmediya community on the common voters’ list also violated the principle of level playing ground.

HRCP recommends the inclusion of the members of the Ahmediya community in the common voters’ list and adoption of measures necessary to offer level playing ground to all parties.

7. The fact that violence continued to disrupt election-related activities till the day of polling raised serious doubts about the efficacy of the scheme of having elections under caretaker regimes. The foremost responsibility of the caretakers in 2013 was maintenance of law and order and if this task was not fulfilled to the satisfaction of the people the need to review the scheme of caretaker regimes is obvious. Despite the most severe pre-poll violence in the country’s history, the law and order situation remained largely peaceful on polling day. On election day, targeting of an ANP office in a bomb explosion in Karachi demonstrated both the violence that some political parties faced and the inability of the authorities to prevent that.

8. There were a number of complaints of voters facing coercion in whom they did or did not vote for, including in a number of constituencies in Karachi. There were several clashes between workers of political parties across the country, which is something that these parties need to take a serious look at if they intend to realize their professed goal to work together to overcome the challenges facing the country.

9. The 2013 election was the costliest ever in the country’s history, and the people with modest means were put at further disadvantage. The expenses incurred by parties and candidates on publicity through the electronic and print media crossed the limits of decency. Besides, the candidates’ campaign speeches were often marred by personal attacks on rivals and a general tendency towards use of intemperate language. The ECP did try to take notice of violations of the code of conduct but these interventions were too few and too feeble to make any healthy impact.

HRCP recommends a serious effort should be made to control election expenditures and adopt enforceable limits to campaign contents.

10. Despite a consistent campaign by women organizations and rights activists for ending discrimination against women they were again denied their right to vote at numerous places, such as Lower Dir, although at a few places they did cast votes for the first time. The ECP’s failure to respond effectively to reports that parties/candidates had entered into compacts for keeping womenfolk out of the electoral process did not add to its credit.

HRCP recommends that adequate legislative and policy measures must be expeditiously enforced to ensure that women are not prevented from exercising their democratic rights.

11. HRCP could not comprehend the reason for the unduly prolonged delay in announcing the results for several constituencies in Balochistan where candidates of nationalist parties were believed to be in a strong position. The Election Commission owes an explanation to the people for why it has taken so long to make these results public.

12. The May 11 election has been rated by most of HRCP’s observers as a most poorly managed affair. The polling stations were not properly selected. At many places there was not enough room for the staff of a polling booth to be properly accommodated. At 17 of the 57 National Assembly constituencies where HRCP observed the electoral process, the required material was not available to varying degrees at the polling station. In Lahore some premises housed up to six polling stations and the voters were made to form only one queue for men and one for women, which resulted in their waiting, at places in the sun, for up to two hours. Some polling stations were on the first floor, causing immense hardships to old and physically incapacitated voters.

It seems the Returning Officers selected polling stations without inspection of sites by themselves or their responsible deputies.

HRCP recommends the adoption of a scheme of permanent polling stations, with possibilities of addition/deletion as warranted by circumstances. These polling stations may be linked to the populations of city wards, mohallah or lanes.

13. The way the polling process was disrupted in Karachi was quite a scandal. Polling did not start in a constituency because the ballot papers could not be delivered to the polling staff. The ECP was apparently not in contact with the polling staff.

HRCP recommends the creation of a system whereby the ECP and its provincial offices can watch the progress of polling and quickly resolve any problems faced by the polling staff.

14. It is difficult to avoid the question whether the ECP proved itself equal to the task of organizing a free, fair, democratic and orderly election. While the ECP deserves commendation for carrying a heavy workload it is necessary to check the bureaucratic stranglehold over it. By tending to concentrate on its own image building the ECP sometimes lost sight of major democratic issues.

HRCP recommends a serious initiative to revamp the ECP, redefine its priorities, reduce bureaucrats’ meddling in political matters, and grant due representation to women in the key positions.

Zohra Yusuf