ECP report: lessons learned or a damning indictment?

Source: Published in Politics on Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Post-Election Review Report of the General Elections 2013, recently published by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on its website, has caused an uproar in political circles-

But those involved with the preparation of the report maintain that it should be viewed as a typical ‘lessons learnt’ exercise and should not be considered a systematic analysis of the entire electoral process.

Dawn spoke to some of the stakeholders involved in the preparation of the report, as well as an independent, international observer, whose observations were included in the report itself, which was prepared jointly by the ECP, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

According to the observer, each person quoted in the report was “somebody involved with the election process” and they were asked to voice their concerns. Feedback from election staff, international partners, as well as average voters, was incorporated into the report.

Feedback from election staff, international partners and voters incorporated into report

However, the observer stressed that, “Each sentence in the report is not a conclusion.”

According to him, the final report, prepared by the European Union’s Election Observation Mission and the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) — a coalition of over 30 NGOs working to observe the general elections — is a far more systematic and methodologically-sound document in terms of an analysis of the entire electoral process.

However, this does not mean that the post-election report is a flawed document. In fact, it contains several instances, albeit anecdotal, of irregularities committed during the elections. But many of these were attributable to incompetence or lack of training rather than any organised conspiracy to rig the elections.

Mudassir Rizvi, head of programmes at Fafen, told Dawn there was nothing in the report that came as a revelation to those involved with the electoral process in 2013.

The process for the compilation of the report was begun soon after the elections, in July, he said. In it, nearly all sources of information are from “within the system”, i.e. returning officers, presiding officers and regional election commissions who were part of the ECP’s own team.

He maintained that several issues highlighted in the report had to do with processes under the ECP’s control.

“Electoral rolls are finalised a year before the elections. If it was reported that there were problems in the rolls, why were these concerns not addressed before the elections,” he asked.

He posited, “If the ECP had this information ‘in its system’, why did they not act to correct these problems in the first place?”

Talking about the ECP’s attempts to distance itself from the post-election review, Mr Rizvi said that the commission should not do that, adding that it was a good thing that these issues were finally being discussed openly.

It is also telling that while the ECP may officially be ‘disowning’ the report, many of its recommendations for future electoral reforms, including some of the proposals already presented to the Parliamentary Commission on Electoral Reform, are based on issues highlighted in the post-election review.

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