LAHORE: In its preliminary report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Observers’ Mission has expressed satisfaction over the relatively peaceful conclusion of the Gilgit-Baltistan elections and appreciated the enthusiastic turnout of voters.
At the same time, the mission expressed its sorrow over a few incidents of violence which resulted in the death of two persons and injuries to at least 40 others. The mission also regretted that the entire electoral process was marred by flaws caused by haste in holding the polls and inadequate preparations. Besides, the pre-poll climate had been considerably vitiated by government efforts to lure voters with relief and development packages. The mission will issue its detailed report after some time.
The observers’ mission was led by the commission’s co-chairperson Iqbal Haider and consisted of Parveen Soomro, Kamran Arif, Hussain Naqi and Najam U Din. The mission was supported by over 70 local observers in all seven districts of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Pre-poll assessment: The HRCP noted with satisfaction that the main political parties in the country had shown tremendous interest in the Gilgit-Baltistan elections.
The HRCP observers met with all stakeholders to ascertain their points of view. The chief election commissioner (CEC), appointed barely a month before the election, mentioned many difficulties the Election Commission (EC) faced in organising the elections at short notice, such as finalisation of electoral rolls in a mere 18 days which resulted in many inaccuracies in the lists, inadequacy of the polling stations and the polling booths therein, insufficient polling staff and a severe lack of security arrangements. The mission received numerous complaints that the federal government representatives – including the prime minister, members of his cabinet and the acting-governor of Gilgit-Baltistan – tried to woo voters at government cost and with a string of financial incentives.
The PML-N, PML-Q, MQM and the independent candidates expressed serious reservations about the role of the Gilgit-Baltistan acting-governor who actively campaigned for the PPP candidates. Reservations were also expressed about the prime minister’s speech at Skardu on Nov 10 in which he appealed to the people to vote for the PPP.
The manner in which the Benazir Income Support Programme and to some extent the Benazir Tractor Scheme were implemented was also criticised.
The PPP refuted the allegations that the acting-governor campaigned for it and stated that the governor had every right to hold meetings and announce development schemes.
All political parties complained about the flawed voters’ list, one political party demanded the deployment of the army to oversee the polls.
Objections were raised regarding the manner in which postal ballot papers had been issued.
In the EC brochure giving the statistics for the region the number of the registered voters in the various constituencies of Diamer, Gilgit and Skardu is only marginally less than their entire population e.g. in GBLA-I (Gilgit) the population is cited as 56,641 and the number of voters is 48,574; in GBLA-VII (Skardu) the population is given as 35,310 and the number of voters is 27,833; the population of GBLA-XV (Diamer) is mentioned as 40,680 and the number of voters is 39,249. Such incredible statistics by the EC could hardly inspire confidence in the fairness of elections.
Polling day assessment: The HRCP observers monitored election activity on polling day in all seven districts of the region and noted:
A heavy turnout despite harsh weather conditions was heartening but it was disappointing to find that a large number of voters could not cast their votes on account of flaws and deficiencies in the electoral rolls and inadequate polling and security arrangements.
At most polling stations visited by the HRCP observers, polling started at the scheduled time, but there were reports from some polling stations of a delayed start.
At a number of polling stations even the voters who were present within the polling stations’ compounds at the end of polling time were not allowed to vote.
A few violent incidents were reported to the commission, in which two people lost their lives and another 40 were injured in election-related violence. The security arrangement left a lot to be desired. The polling staff seemed to be intimidated and harassed at many polling stations.
An almost complete absence of women police at polling stations for women resulted in disorder and that slowed down voting.
At a number of polling stations arrangements for secrecy of ballot were either absent or inadequate.
At many polling stations during suspension of electricity supply no proper arrangements were made for emergency lighting. At many polling stations for men, the commission found old iron ballot boxes instead of the new transparent plastic ones.
The presiding officers exercised a lot of discretion in allowing or disallowing voters on account of deficiencies in the electoral rolls, which led to quarrels and delays.
There were reports of agreements among some of the candidates to bar women from voting. Worse, the EC did not intervene.
The HRCP observers found that the ink claimed to be indelible was easily removable.
HRCP recommendations: The CEC should be given independence and security of tenure.
The CEC should have adequate power to stop government officials and the public office holders from interfering in the electoral process.
Voters’ list should have the NIC number of each voter.
The law should be amended to ensure that any elections where women were systematically excluded from voting shall be declared void.
Adequate time must be provided to the CEC to update and finalise electoral rolls and make other polling arrangements.
Elections in Gilgit-Baltistan must not be held later than the first week of October, in view of the harsh weather conditions.
There should be more than one polling booth for every polling station where the number of voters exceeds 500.
Source: Dawn – 14.11.2009