FAFEN preliminary election observation report of general election 2024
ISLAMABAD, February 10, 2024: Approximately 60 million voters went to the polls in Pakistan on February 8, 2024, to elect their representatives in 265 National Assembly and 590 Provincial Assembly constituencies in one of the country’s most competitive political contests. The elections followed two tumultuous years of political upheaval, discord and polarization, which have left behind a debris of constitutional confusions, judicial misadventures, communal stress, economic downturn and growing public distrust in public and electoral institutions – issues that must be taken up by the future government as its top priorities.
Despite a spiral of allegations by multiple political parties about not getting a level playing field as well as a spike in militant violence in some parts of the country, none of the political parties backed out of the electoral race. All parties continued until the last minute their efforts to muster public support, which augurs well for Pakistan’s struggling democracy. In addition, the pre-election perception of an unlevel playing field does not seem to have prevented the accusing political parties from gaining electoral ground.
Notwithstanding the general perception that pre-election media freedoms were constricted and sporadic incidences of restrictions on expression and speech, in fact Pakistani print, electronic and digital media continued to contribute tremendously to strengthening the political and electoral process. The media kept voters informed through their undiluted reporting, which helped voters make informed choices. Independent civil society groups deserve praise in particular for focusing attention on rights and liberties during the election process, including infringements of the rights of citizens and political parties.
Unfazed by a spate of scathing criticism from some political parties, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must particularly be acknowledged for having organized the country’s largest electoral exercise – with the greatest number of candidates and highest number of voters – in a reasonably orderly manner. More than 1.1 million election officials performed election duties in a highly challenging political environment. They ensured the integrity of voting and counting processes at the polling stations that largely remained free of controversy, notwithstanding sporadic complaints by political parties and candidates about not getting the election results forms to which they are legally entitled. More than 0.7 million police and military officials stood guard across Pakistan and outside polling stations, ensuring peace and order on the election day against the backdrop of fears of militant and political violence.
However, whatever the reasons and explanations, the ECP’s delay in the preparation and announcement of preliminary election results overshadowed an otherwise orderly election, raising questions about the credibility of the election outcome. In addition, the caretaker government’s suspension of cellular and internet services on election day – regardless of the security reasons –undermined years of parliamentary efforts to reform the election results management process through amendments to the Elections Act, 2017, which were meant to maximize the integrity, efficiency and transparency of electoral outcomes.
Nevertheless, the country has found a closure to a period of unsettling uncertainty that was not only exhausting for the people but also for the economy, with lingering inflation, unemployment and general disenchantment. Now it is the responsibility of political parties to bring to end their obstinate disengagement for a smooth transition of power in order to ensure the much-needed political stability in the country. Many of the concerns raised by the political parties and their candidates need to be addressed on legal merit by the ECP as promptly as possible, while residual matters can be addressed by the election tribunals that will be formed and start working in less than two months.
The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) deployed 5,664 observers – 3,913 men, 1,740 women and 11 transgender persons – to observe 22,656 polling stations, around 25 percent of a total of 90,675 polling stations set up in 265 constituencies. FAFEN observers had undergone a day-long training on provisions relevant to voting and counting processes at the polling stations as provided by the Elections Act, 2017, Election Rules, 2017 and ECP handbooks for election officials. FAFEN acknowledges the ECP for setting in place a hassle-free process of accreditation for these observers, which is indicative of the Commission’s greater focus on increasing the transparency of the electoral processes. FAFEN observers typically observed four polling stations through the election day, starting from the observation of proceedings before the opening of a polling station and ending with the counting of votes. Most observers, however, could not transmit their observation reports using FAFEN’s dedicated mobile app due to the caretaker government’s suspension of cellular data services, preventing FAFEN from publishing its progressive voter turnout reports as planned for election day.
This preliminary report is based on the observation reports received from 3,534 observers from 12,177 polling stations in 262 NA constituencies. These include 5,083 male polling stations, 1,730 female stations and 5,364 combined stations. In addition, the preliminary findings include constituency-level observation reports from 231 long-term observers – 195 men and 36 women – as well as observation of the process of preparation of preliminary results at the offices of Returning Officers (ROs) in 265 NA constituencies.
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