The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has praised the conduct of peaceful and largely orderly polls for the Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) and says that other regions of Pakistan can do well to emulate the example of GB polls held on Monday.
Based on the initial reports submitted by HRCP election observers who monitored polls at 295 polling stations that had been declared most sensitive by the Election Commission of Gilgit-Baltistan across the seven districts of the region, the HRCP issued the following preliminary findings.
1.) The voters need to be praised for their discipline and enthusiasm for the polls. Early indications suggest a substantial turnout and it appears that despite some initial fears, conservative elements could not succeed in preventing the women from participating in the elections.
2.) The HRCP acknowledges the efforts of the election commission for the largely well managed GBLA elections and believes that the polls hold many lessons for the conduct of elections elsewhere in Pakistan. These lessons need to be learned quickly, particularly against the backdrop of violence in the recent local bodies elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as in the by-elections held in Mandi Bahauddin in Punjab on Monday. To the credit of the GB election commission, the polling material was reported to have been delivered in time, polling started at the scheduled hour and there were few complaints of late arrival of staff, or staff trying to manipulate the voting. Polling agents for the candidates were generally facilitated at all the polling station monitored by HRCP observers. The HRCP was also impressed by a very responsive election commission and the district administration so far as facilitating the poll observers was concerned.
3.) The HRCP must compliment the security apparatus, especially the military, for ensuring that the polls remained free of any serious incident of violence, even though there had been apprehensions to the contrary leading up to the polls. The security personnel were generally courteous and reacted in a prompt manner by deputing more personnel wherever HRCP observers expressed fears of tension and clashes among voters and candidates at any polling station. However, firing into the air, apparently in celebration, was reported from some constituencies late on Monday.
4.) The use of voters’ list based on Nadra’s record was well received and led to weeding out of duplicate votes, and the around 750,000 votes in the 2009 GBLA elections were cut down to 615,000 votes this time around. There had been few objections to the voters’ list although some complaints were received over the location of polling stations.
5.) This is not to say that the elections were perfect. Indeed many things could have been improved and prevented. Controversy about the choice of the governor and the constitution and size of the caretaker cabinet could have been avoided. There were at least some complaints that the ink used for marking voters’ thumbs was not indelible. Also, leading up to the elections, there had been numerous complaints of the use of state machinery. At least some of these were in response to important leaders of the ruling party in the centre addressing public gatherings and making promises during the GBLA election campaign. They can at the very least be faulted for making these announcements which, on account of their timing, seemed to be designed to influence the voters’ choice.
6.) The demand for GBLA elections to be held simultaneously with the general elections elsewhere in the country is a thoroughly justified one. Synchronised elections across the country would not only address grievances regarding attempts to influence and interfere in the GBLA elections from the centre but will also make sure that even such a perception does not arise.
7.) A number of violations of the code of conduct for elections did come to light during the polls on Monday. These included the candidates setting up their camps closer to the polling station than they were permitted, hoardings and banners larger than the approved size and candidates pasting their posters at polling stations. However, no single party had monopoly over such violations and all were guilty of indulging in such tactics.
8.) A matter of great alarm and bitter disappointment has been the fact that banned militant organisations managed to openly display their flags and solicited votes under their banner. That is a slur on an otherwise praise-worthy effort that must be condemned.