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Barring a few incidents, Pak election process was smooth: Commonwealth Observer Group

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Islamabad, Feb 10 (PTI) The Commonwealth election observers’ mission in Pakistan said on Saturday that barring a few incidents, the election process was held smoothly.

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Jonathan Goodluck, the head of the mission, delivered the preliminary findings of the Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) in Islamabad. He said that the preliminary findings were related to the pre-election environment, observations on Election Day and brief reflections on the post-election environment.

“We congratulate the people of Pakistan for their patience and determination throughout the electoral process. Notwithstanding the challenges noted, citizens turned out to exercise their right to vote on Election Day,” he said.

Talking about the re-election environment, the mission head said that while noting some delays involved in proceeding also acknowledged the significant challenges in organising an election involving around 128 million registered voters.

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“We recognise the security challenges faced by the ECP. We note that, in the lead up to Election Day, there were attacks which resulted in the unfortunate loss of lives,” he said.

He also noted that some polling stations were relocated a considerable distance away from their original locations, to which some voters may not have been able to travel.

He said that the national gender gap in registered voters was reduced from almost 13 per cent in 2013 to 7.7 per cent and also noted that 60 seats in the National Assembly are reserved for women.

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The Group received reports that some political parties did not meet the requirement of having at least five per cent of women candidates on their party lists and also noted that only 6 per cent of women were among more than 5,000 candidates.

“We also note that there remain some barriers to the full participation of minority communities in Pakistan,” he said.

We also received reports of arrests and detentions, especially of supporters and members of a main political party. We note the impact of legal decisions on the ability of some candidates to run for office in the days leading up to Election Day, including a decision which disallowed the party symbol of a main political party.

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Stakeholders expressed concerns about the impact of this decision, insofar as it curtailed the right of voters to exercise their franchise, particularly illiterate voters.

The mission also conveyed concerns that members of the affected party would not be eligible for reserved seats.

“We received reports of some candidates’ campaigns being disrupted, thus affecting their right of peaceful assembly and the right to participate in the electoral process,” he said.

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He said that the mission got reports that state media coverage was more favourable to some candidates and parties than to others and also showed concern about the suspension of the internet.

“We note with concern the restrictions placed on internet access and in particular, the shutdown of internet and mobile phone services on Election Day, which curtailed freedom of speech, ease of communication as well as other political rights,” he said.

The head said the observers were encouraged by the efforts of the ECP in seeking to improve election management processes through the introduction of an Election Management System (EMS) but noted that the EMS could not operate as intended on Election Day.

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“While we received reports of some incidents on Election Day, which we will consider further in our final report, voting took place in a largely peaceful environment,” he said about the election day happenings.

He said that pre-polling procedures were largely followed and that polling stations opened on time, while some stations experienced minor delays in opening for the most part, they were equipped with requisite polling staff and materials.

“The Group observed that the rate of voter turnout increased significantly as the day progressed,” the group head said.

He mentioned the significant presence of youth, including young women, as ECP officials and polling agents, and also commended the presence of dedicated polling stations for women to facilitate the participation of female voters.

“We observed that there were many female polling staff and polling agents and that women police officers were also present among the security at some polling stations. We observed many persons with disabilities (PWDs) voting on Election Day,” he said.

He commended all polling staff and security personnel for being proactive in assisting and granting priority to PWDs, the elderly, and pregnant and nursing mothers, although we noted that such assistance was not uniform.

He said that security was highly visible at all polling locations that the Group visited and the “security officials we observed were professional and carried out their duties diligently”.

Talking about the post-polling process, the mission head said that the polling stations generally closed on time, and those who were within the premises at the stipulated closing time of 1700 hrs were accorded the right to cast their ballot.

“The count at polling stations we observed was generally managed efficiently by polling staff,” he said.

He said that the final report, setting out the full findings on the entire electoral process and detailed recommendations, will be submitted to the Commonwealth Secretary-General before being shared with Pakistan and then made publicly available.

A group consisting of eminent individuals from across the Commonwealth received briefings from a variety of local stakeholders from February 2 to 5, including the ECP, the police, political parties, civil society, media representatives, Commonwealth High Commissioners, and citizen observers.

The observers were deployed to various areas on 6 February, covering Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Karachi, Hyderabad and Abbottabad.

He also appreciated the authorities for the invitation extended to observe the general elections and for all the arrangements to facilitate the work of the COG.

“We are aware of the importance of these elections for the people of Pakistan,” he said and added that Pakistan is a founding and valued member of the Commonwealth family and one of the world’s largest democracies. PTI SH AMS

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