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PRELIMINARY STATEMENT OF THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTE-ASIAN NETWORK FOR FREE ELECTIONS INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION TO PAKISTAN

May 13th, 2013

PRELIMINARY STATEMENT OF THE
NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTE-ASIAN NETWORK FOR FREE ELECTIONS
INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION TO PAKISTAN

Islamabad, Pakistan
May 13, 2013

OVERVIEW

This preliminary statement is offered by the joint election observation mission of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL). The mission consists of 48 observers from 18 countries. Observers were deployed to 12 locations in Islamabad and three of the nation’s four provinces, visiting more than 250 polling locations. Security concerns prevented direct observation in Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). However, the mission was in frequent contact with candidates, parties and nongovernmental organizations in those areas to follow election-related developments that were not accessible to the delegation.

Pakistan’s May 11th general elections consisted of 272 distinct contests in separate constituencies for general seats in the National Assembly and 577 contests for general seats in the Provincial Assemblies of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh (as well as contests for 60 seats reserved for women, and ten seats reserved for non-Muslims in the National Assembly and 128 seats reserved for women, and 23 seats reserved for non-Muslims in the Provincial Assemblies). These elections unfolded differently in various parts of the country.

The 2013 elections were a critical step in continuing the nation’s return to democracy, which began five years ago. Millions of Pakistanis expressed their support for the democratic process by voting despite extremist attempt to disrupt the polls. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) estimated voter turnout around 60 percent. Voters’ courage and resolve in casting their ballots despite the mounting violence was a victory for democracy and the people of Pakistan. The stage has been set for the country’s first transfer of power from one democratically elected government to the next.

The campaign period saw the political parties compete vigorously where it was safe to do so. Print and electronic media provided extensive coverage of the candidates and the issues of greatest concern to voters, such as economic growth, energy, high prices, unemployment, education, and security.

The elections saw 456 women candidates contest for general seats in the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies, which is more than twice as many women candidates that contested in the 2008 general elections. However, their numbers remain extremely low, representing only 2.9 percent of the total number of candidates contesting for general seats. More parties and candidates participated in these elections than in the previous general elections. In Balochistan, parties that boycotted the 2008 elections reentered the electoral process and, for the first time in the nation’s history, political parties fielded candidates in FATA.

Over the last few years, political parties cooperated as never before in developing an improved legal framework for the elections. Their efforts resulted in the selection of a Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) by unanimous consent and establishment of a framework for designating national and provincial caretaker governments. The ECP appears to enjoy a high-level of public confidence and constructed the most complete and accurate voters list in the nation’s history. In addition, the ECP cooperated with political parties, media representatives and civil society to negotiate five separate codes of conduct for political parties and candidates, observers, polling personnel, media, and security personnel.

NDI-ANFREL observers were generally welcomed by polling personnel on election day and noted a calm and peaceful environment at most polling stations, reporting much enthusiasm among voters. Many of those casting ballots remarked that the polls would lead to a better future. Voting was generally well-conducted and the secrecy of the ballot was largely respected. The process benefited from greatly improved electoral rolls and the widespread use of a text message-based system that allowed voters to verify their polling locations. While information is still incomplete, it appears that voter turnout nationally will be high compared to previous polls. This is a remarkable achievement in light of the frequent and well-publicized security threats in many parts of the country.

NDI-ANFREL observers identified several administrative problems in the conduct of the polls. These included: inadequate facilities at some women’s polling stations to process the large number of voters, resulting in long lines and overcrowding; problems at several polling stations when voters could not find their names on the roll and relied on partisan polling agents to help them; and, at some polling stations, polling agents being viewed as an extension of the polling staff and being permitted to perform duties that were the responsibility of election officials, such as assisting disabled voters, checking voters’ identities, and locating voters on the lists. While these administrative problems did not seriously impair the integrity of the election, they could be damaging in future elections if allowed to persist.

The elections contained a central paradox. While there were many improvements in the electoral process, the May elections were perhaps the nation’s most violent. In the year leading up the polls, political violence, especially by non-state actors, plagued several parts of the country, notably Balochistan, Karachi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas. While many parties and their candidates were victimized, the Pakistani Taliban specifically targeted three parties — the Awami National Party (ANP), the Muttahida Quami movement (MQM), and the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) — all parties of the outgoing government. The violence curtailed voters in some areas from hearing the messages of these parties and could have adversely affected the integrity of the elections in certain constituencies in Balochistan, Karachi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the tribal areas.

In the closing days of the campaign, the Pakistani Taliban announced its intentions to disrupt the elections, stating that “our war is against democracy.” Nevertheless, political parties and candidates in the most threatened parts courageously continued their campaigns. On election day, political violence reportedly resulted in dozens of deaths. From March 16, when the National Assembly was dissolved, until May 7, the United Nations (UN) recorded 196 deaths due to election-related violence. Campaign fatalities included at least seven candidates.

In recent years, the Pakistani people have done much to build a more democratic society. There is a robust and independent print and electronic media, the capacity of civil society is increasing, there is an independent and assertive judiciary, and political parties are maturing, as seen by their willingness to cooperate on establishing an improved legal framework. The May 11th elections illustrated the resolve of the people of Pakistan to build on the progress that they have made in developing their democratic institutions. We encourage that the international community to continue its support for these efforts to advance the democratic process.

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A voter casts his ballot Photo Courtesy of Olaf Kellerhoff

A voter casts his ballot
Photo Courtesy of Olaf Kellerhoff

 

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