Despite the impression of a lack of a level playing field, PTI managed to secure over 90 seats, with an average turnout of 48.2%
The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), an independent observer for the 2024 general elections, has raised questions over the transparency of the election result tabulation process at offices of returning offices, noting that it was not allowed access at over half of the result tabulation locations being observed.
“ROs tended to act independently, disregarding the instructions of the ECP in their administrative handbooks,” read a report issued by FAFEN on Saturday.
FAFEN’s report was delayed by a day because the suspension of cellular networks and the internet prevented them from transmitting polling station-wise reports, much like the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
FAFEN said that compared to the relative procedural transparency it had observed at polling stations – including access to observers inside polling stations during the vote casting and vote counting processes, FAFEN’s observers were not as consistently permitted at the offices of ROs to observe the process of the preparation of preliminary electoral results.
“Of 244 National Assembly (NA) constituencies, the ROs in only about half (114 or 46.7%) allowed FAFEN observers to witness the result tabulation proceedings,” the report stated, adding that ROs in 130 constituencies refused permission to FAFEN observers, contravening the instructions by the ECP to allow all independent observation of all stages of election result preparation, a vital measure for electoral transparency.
The constituencies where FAFEN observers were refused permission included 78 in Punjab, 21 in Sindh, 17 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 11 in Balochistan and three in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).
Restrictions on one or more candidates and their agents to be present at the tabulation proceedings were also reported from 66 NA constituencies, including 46 in Punjab, 10 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, five in Sindh, three in Balochistan and two in ICT.
Moreover, FAFEN said that probably due to a shortage of forms, presiding officers at 49% of polling stations did not provide the observers with Form-46 (Ballot Paper Account), again a violation of clear legal provisions. In addition, the Form-45 was not affixed at a conspicuous place outside almost a third (29.4%) of the observed polling stations, a necessary measure to ensure electoral transparency at the first critical stage of the result management process.
The report said that the delay in preparing and announcing preliminary election results overshadowed an otherwise orderly election, raising questions about the credibility of the election outcome.
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 maximise integrity and efficiency and transparency of electoral outcomes.
High voting activity
FAFEN said that an assessment of the Form 47 (Provisional Consolidated Statement of the Result of the Count) from 235 National Assembly constituencies, as announced by the Election Commission, showed that the voter turnout for these elections was 48.2% with some 55.1 million votes cast.
Islamabad witnessed the highest voter turnout, with over 54.2% of registered voters participating in the polls across its three NA constituencies, followed by Punjab with a 51.7% voter turnout in 133 NA constituencies.
In Sindh, the voter turnout reached 43.9% across 56 NA constituencies; in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it was 41.4% across 40 constituencies; and in Balochistan, it was 35% across three NA constituencies (however, independent observation in many constituencies of Balochistan showed that the overall turnout in the province could be far lower signifying a different trend).
FAFEN said that as many as 1.6 million ballots were excluded from the count by the presiding officers at polling stations in 235 national assembly constituencies. This number is almost the same as the number of votes excluded during the 2018 general elections.
An analysis by FAFEN suggests that there are at least 25 NA constituencies where the number of ballots excluded from the count exceeds the margin of victory. Of these, 23 were in Punjab, one each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh.
As many as 14 of these constituencies were claimed by the PML-N, five by the PPPP, four by PTI-backed independents and two other independents.
As many as four constituencies reported that the number of ballots excluded numbered more than 15,000 each. Another 21 constituencies excluded 10,000 to 15,000 ballots each.
A large number of constituencies (137) had excluded between 5,000 to 10,000 ballots. A total of 67 constituencies reported fewer than 5,000 but greater than 1,000 excluded ballots. Only six constituencies reported fewer than 1,000 excluded ballots each.
The highest number of ballots excluded from the final voter count was reported from NA-59 Talagang-cum-Chakwal (24,547 ballots) — where PML-N’s Sardar Ghulam Abbas won with 141,680 votes compared to the PTI-backed Independent Roman Ahmed who had finished second with 129,716 votes, followed by NA-213 Umerkot (17,571 ballots) — where PPPP’s Nawab Muhammad Yousuf Talpur won with 175,162 votes, compared to PML-N’s Mir Amanullah Khan Talpur.
The lowest number of ballots excluded were reported from NA-236 Karachi East-II (51 ballots) — where Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) Hassan Sabir won with 38,871 votes.
FAFEN observers reported that polling was uninterrupted at most of the over 96,000 polling stations nationwide. However, at seven percent of polling stations, it was observed that the polling process was chaotic due to overcrowding and the slow processing of voters.
Further, the report said that the polling stations were not set up in the spirit of Section 59(3) of the Elections Act, 2017, which requires the allocation of voters not to exceed 1,200 at each polling station and 300 at each polling booth.
At as many as 59,213 polling stations (65.3%), more than 1,200 voters were allocated, and at 81,502 polling stations (89.9%), there was at least one polling booth with more than 300 assigned voters.
Observing vote counting
FAFEN said that presiding officers at 2,761 polling stations enabled observation of vote-counting processes. Legally, only the polling agents, polling staff, and accredited observers can be present during the counting process.
At 2.5% of the polling stations observed, the presiding officers carried out counting processes in the presence of unauthorised persons. Moreover, at two percent of the observed polling stations, the Presiding Officers did not acquire the signatures of the present polling agents on Form-45 (the result of the count).
Similarly, at least one polling agent refused to sign the Form-45 at two percent observed polling stations. At half of the polling stations, the Presiding Officers did not carry out a mandatory second count of the ballots.
FAFEN said that at none of the 235 NA constituencies did the share of women’s polled votes dip lower than 10% share of women’s polled votes in any constituency, which is the prerequisite for issuance of results.
In NA-42 South Waziristan Upper-cum-South Waziristan Lower, the women turnout was only 9.2% of women registered to vote.
At the other extreme, NA-214 Tharparkar-I reported a women turnout of 72.8% of women registered to vote.
The targeted initiatives have reduced the overall gender gap on the voter rolls between male and female voters from 12.4 million in 2018 to 9.9 million in 2024. However, their turnout remained at 43% as compared to 52% male turnout, a similar gap reported in the general elections.
The degree of compliance with the five-percent legal provision varies among the elective houses. In the National Assembly, 94 parties had distributed tickets for general seats to 1,872 candidates, with 93 women among them, constituting 4.97% of the total candidates.
In the Punjab Assembly, 70 parties distributed tickets to 1,878 candidates, of whom 59 were women (3.14% of the total). In the Sindh Assembly, 50 parties distributed tickets to 948 candidates, with 62 being women (6.54% of the total).
In the Balochistan Assembly, 37 parties distributed tickets to 533 candidates, including 19 women (3.56% of the total). In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, 44 parties distributed tickets to 806 candidates, 47 of whom were women (5.83% of the total).
Of the 306 women candidates competing for general seats in the National Assembly, as many as 12 have emerged as winners for NA seats from 235 constituencies announced so far – eight in Punjab, three in Sindh and one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Major political parties largely retained or improved their vote banks in GE-2024. This calculation is based on the results of 235 NA constituencies. PTI-backed candidates secured 16.85 million votes compared to the party’s tally of 16.9 million votes in 2018. PMLN increased its share of votes from 12.9 million in 2018 to 13.3 million in 2024. PPPP’s share increased from 6.9 million in 2018 to 7.6 million in 2024. Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s share has increased slightly from 2.1 million in 2018 to 2.6 million in 2024.
Although around 100 of the returned candidates are technically independent, only eight are unaffiliated-independent; PTI backs the rest. Also, the trend of regionalisation of parties’ support seemed to have started reversing, with major political parties finding support bases in all regions. PML-N and PPPP have got a seat share in all regions. Similarly, PTI-backed candidates registered wins in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh.
FAFEN observers reported a generally peaceful environment in and around most polling stations.
A total of 139 minor incidents of squabbles and brawls were reported by FAFEN observers, in addition to 122 similar incidents reported by the media.
Level playing field
Some political parties, including PTI, raised their voices against what they called an uneven playing field for their candidates.
In many cases, PTI claimed their rallies were obstructed, and candidates were arrested or coerced into withdrawing from the race. Some candidates claiming to have the backing of PTI complained that they were not allowed to submit nomination papers. However, candidates affiliated with PTI submitted their nomination papers in greater numbers than any other party.
PTI also complained of being singled out in the rejection of nomination papers. The ROs rejected 12% of nomination papers for GE-2024 compared to 10% in GE-2018 and 15% in GE-2013. Most candidates whose nomination papers were rejected during scrutiny for GE-2024 were allowed to run by the tribunals and, in some cases, higher courts.
FAFEN said a record number of candidates contested for national and provincial assembly seats during the 2024 general elections — a distinguishing feature of this contest from the previous 11 general elections. As many as 17,911 candidates – 5,166 at the national level and 12,745 at the provincial – competed for NA and PA constituencies. In comparison, the General Elections 2018 saw 3,426 candidates contesting for 272 NA seats and 8,242 candidates for 572 PA seats.
Rights groups criticised the judgement for jeopardising the chances of a political party to get its share of reserved seats for women and non-Muslims. Still, its supported candidates won the largest number of seats.
The future Parliament may consider doing away with restrictive regulations on political parties and strengthening their role in the country’s electoral framework. Regardless of legal merit, actions against political parties and workers during the election period taint the credibility of the electoral process.__The Friday Times Pakistan