Khanewal, Pakistan: Despite a heavy campaign of tagging PMLN as an anti-Pakistan party, PMLN according to unofficial results won the seat with a 14,000 votes margin.
According to unofficial and unconfirmed results, Rana Muhammad Saleem of PMLN defeated the PTI candidate by bagging 47,649 votes while the PTI candidate got only 34,039 votes. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate stood third by securing 15,069 votes.
Meanwhile, the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) claimed that illegal Campaigning and Canvassing Persist in Multi-Party Contest in Khanewal By-Election. In a press statement issued on Thursday evening, FAFEN claimed that campaigning and canvassing outside polling stations and persistent minor procedural irregularities in PP-206 (Khanewal-IV) by-election reinforced the need for stricter implementation of the election law and procedures, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN).
FAFEN deployed a total of 30 trained, non-partisan and duly accredited observers (21 men and nine women) to observe 120 out of the total 183 polling stations across the constituency. FAFEN observed the opening of polling stations as well as voting and counting processes at selected polling stations, and documented their observations on the standardized checklists based on the Elections Act, 2017, Elections Rules, 2017, Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) handbooks for elections officials and relevant notifications and directions of the ECP. This preliminary report is based on the observations received from 82 polling stations – 45 percent of total polling stations.
According to FAFEN observers, the election day remained peaceful with no major incident affecting the voting and counting processes. However, seven FAFEN observers were barred from observing the electoral processes – six from the counting and one from the voting processes. The six observers restricted from the observation of counting processes were stopped by the Presiding Officers, while one was barred by the security officials. At one polling station (PS-70), the Presiding Officer continuously interrupted the observation of an accredited observer.
As part of FAFEN’s observation, the observers interviewed three voters outside each observed polling station after they cast their ballots to gauge their satisfaction with the voting process. In PP-206 (Khanewal-IV), all 222 voters interviewed by FAFEN observers expressed their satisfaction with their voting experience.
According to FAFEN observers, one of the most common illegalities remained the campaigning and canvassing by candidates around the polling stations, which has also been a most occurring issue in other elections. FAFEN observers reported campaigning and canvassing outside 85 percent (69 polling stations) of the observed polling stations. Such campaigning and canvassing around polling stations at times also becomes a source of election-day violence due to intense competition and may also create an atmosphere of intimidation for voters.
At 29 percent (23 polling stations) of the observed polling stations, the Presiding Officers had not removed the campaigning materials on their outer walls. Moreover, at four polling stations, observers reported campaign material pasted inside the polling stations’ premises. At two polling stations, the observers reported scarcity of the polling materials, which may have led to delays in the voting processes. The Presiding Officer at one polling station did not also seek signatures of polling agents on Form-42 (statement regarding inspection of ballot boxes before start of poll) after showing them empty ballot boxes before the start of polling as required by the law. Similarly, at two polling stations, the Presiding Officers did not show the empty ballot boxes to the polling agents.
At two polling stations, the observers reported that voters were not allowed to vote despite possessing the original National Identity Cards (NICs). Similarly, at two polling stations, the Assistant Presiding Officers (APOs) were observed to have not been stamping the back of the ballot papers while issuing them to the voters. The APOs were also observed to not sign the back of the ballot papers at five polling stations. Such ballot papers are excluded from the count at the time of counting at the polling station and later rejected by the Returning Officers during the consolidation of results’ proceedings.
At one polling station, unauthorized persons were observed to be present inside the polling booth. With the exception of observation from one polling station, the security officials were observed to be treating voters in a courteous manner and performing their duties in accordance with the ECP code of conduct.
Though the ECP had instructed the polling staff to comply with the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for containing the spread of the Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), at 43 percent (32 polling stations) of the observed polling stations, the COVID SOPs were not duly followed or ensured by the election officials. Similarly, at 41 percent (32 polling stations), the poster exhibiting COVID-19 safety protocols to apprise voters of the SOPs was missing.
Overall, the ECP had set up 183 polling stations – 62 male, 60 female and 61 combined – in the constituency, comprising 512 polling booths – 268 male and 244 females. The Elections Act, 2017 encourages the Returning Officers to assign not more than 1,200 voters to any polling station, and not more than 300 per booth. However, as many as 97 polling stations exceeded the legally encouraged scheme including 39 male, 20 female and 38 combined polling stations.
Despite clear instructions by the ECP, the Presiding Officers at 28 polling stations had set-up multiple booths in a single room. Such practices lead to overcrowding during voting rush hours, especially during high-turnout elections. In addition, the mismanagement of polling stations along with a higher number of voters assigned to a polling station at times leads to chaos and disorder, which slows down the voting, and may also cause voter suppression as many voters turn away to avoid the unnecessary wait or untoward situations.
As many as 230,698 voters – 125,190 men and 105,508 women – were registered to vote for the by-election, as compared to 203,661 in GE-2018, registering an increase of 27,037 voters – 12,424 men and 14,613 women voters.
The PP-206 (Khanewal-IV) consists of areas including Christian Colony, Green Town, Railway Colony, Basti Haqnawaz (Old Khanewal), Hakeemabad, Azeem Town, Islam Park, Khokarabad, Raheem Town, Shadab Town, Basti Abbas Nagar, Jaswant Nagar, Faisal Town, Afzal Town, Kahnewal Kohna, Shamkot, Jamesabad, Mahni Sial, Kot Molchand, Veer Garh, Nanak Pur, Hayatpur, Solgi, Zakhira Khanewal, Mohallah Bilal/Tariqabad, Marzipura, Kot Alla Singh, Mehngi Wali Pulli, Makkah Town, Faisal Town, Kot Muhammad Hussain, Madina Town, Khurram Pura and other suburbs.