Pakistan Electoral Integrity Assessment
Landmark general elections held in 2013 in Pakistan represented the largest electoral undertaking in the country to date. More than 46 million voters cast their ballots in an improved process that resulted in the first peaceful transfer of power from one elected government to another in Pakistan’s history. In November 2013, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) conducted a comprehensive electoral integrity assessment in Pakistan, in cooperation with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and with funding support from the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD). The assessment methodology used in that effort differentiates between malpractice, fraud and systemic manipulation. These are important distinctions for understanding the vulnerabilities in the Pakistan election environment, which continues to experience challenges with malpractice, fraud allegations and a need for greater public trust.
The most significant vulnerabilities can be mapped to several different responsible parties. Challenges with the ECP’s full exercise of its mandate had implications for the integrity of elements of the election process. Despite a clear constitutional mandate to manage elections, the use of judicial officers in the important role of Returning Officer – as requested by political parties – resulted in little oversight and direction for their activities. Our assessment also found that, while efforts were made to reach out to key stakeholders, the ECP does not yet consider training and voter education and outreach as part of its core mandate. As a result, the ECP still needs to build internal capacity and dedicate resources to undertake such activities; most are currently outsourced. This process of outsourcing can lead to insufficient oversight and quality control.
The ECP’s ability to exercise its mandate is limited by the complexity of the electoral legal framework. A vast array of sources and interpretations, coupled with a general lack of understanding of the law by most stakeholders, diminishes the legal framework’s credibility. Furthermore, for decades, the executive branch has manipulated the election law in order to increase its control over the process and there has been resistance from a range of sectors to reforming the current framework. The legal framework is also mostly silent or unclear about the processes by which complainants file grievances and the ECP investigates and rules on these complaints. The lack of specificity leads to inefficiencies, limited transparency, an increased chance of malpractice and great confusion. More could be done by the ECP to remedy the legal vacuum or to take on the responsibility of adjudication.
The final major finding was that the lack of a comprehensive, inter-agency security planning process impacted the integrity of the 2013 elections. Media and civil society stakeholders highlighted the differences in security environments across provinces, pointing to inadequate security planning and provision, and political parties blamed the caretaker government and the ECP for failing to provide a fairer campaign environment. While election security is the responsibility of a number of institutions, the complex pre-existing security environment needs to elicit a more comprehensive, coordinated response from authorities who are familiar with risks and challenges.
Despite the historic nature of the 2013 polls, and the significant improvements made by the ECP to strengthen the electoral process, it is clear that challenges were present in the pre-election period, Election Day and its aftermath. These challenges stemmed mainly from malpractice, although fraud vulnerabilities remain. Electoral stakeholders should continue admirable reform efforts and take additional steps to mitigate these challenges to ensure they do not continue to surface in future elections.