Pakistan Domestic Election Monitoring (Feb 2008)

By Post date: Mar 20, 2018


Democracy International (DI) in partnership with The Asia Foundation conducted an election-monitoring project that took a preparation time of one year from 2007 to 2008. Democracy International claims to have successfully conducted national election monitoring in the February 2008 elections.  The purpose of the mission was to “support the electorate and democracy in Pakistan by providing an expanded international presence to observe and report on the electoral process and evaluate the degree to which the elections conformed to international standards.”  In addition to the election observation missions that Democracy International carried out in February 2008, they also followed up with a postelection mission in April 2008 and preceded it with a political party assistance evaluation in December 2007. These elections were successful in that they were a step towards free and fair elections being carried out in a fully democratic Pakistan, however there were also a number of failures that could lead to rigged and corrupt elections in the future. USAID funded the mission but Democracy International was not explicit in how much was granted. After carrying out election administration, observation, and postelection observation, Democracy International learned that Pakistan must focus on problems like: 

   - Voter registration
   - Women’s participation
   - Electoral environment that restricts the independence of the media and the judiciary and limits the ability of parties, candidates, and
     civil society actors to criticize the government

Pre-election Context 

Pakistan’s Constitution of 1973 along with the laws and regulations in place have it so that the judicial branch checks the power of the executive branch. However, during a state of emergency President Musharraf replaced all of the sitting independent judges of the judicial branch with his own appointed judges. This affected the credibility of the upcoming national election and completely hijacked the ability for the judicial branch to properly oversee executive power. Musharraf was able to successfully expand the executive power to the point where he was able to exert control over independent bodies such as the Election Commission of Pakistan. The ECP is supposed to be an independent and autonomous body that is responsible for organizing and conducting state and national elections.

In addition to the blatant political corruption, the violence leading up to the election resulted in uncertainty in the possibility of an election actually taking place. By the beginning of 2008, the election had already been postponed from January to February. There were rumors of it being pushed to later in the year due to security issues. The violence made candidates fear actively campaigning and being in public too much. In December of 2007, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated while campaigning in preparation of the elections that were originally scheduled for January of 2008. The inability for candidates to campaign properly added to public fear as well as the flaws in the Pakistani election. 

Finally, because President Musharraf declared a state of emergency in November 2007, he was able to take significant control over the media. All independent media broadcasts were temporarily suspended and other press was placed under strict restrictions. The President ended the state of emergency on December 15th but continued the restrictions on all media and maintained that they follow the Code of Conduct, which restricts criticism of the government. It is hard to declare that Pakistan really was moving to democracy when there are so many violations of the rule of law and private rights. The media’s inability to speak freely about the government can be interpreted as an authoritarian regime characteristic.

Who is Important? 

There are a number of people who were affected by the work that Democracy International, USAID, and other organization’s presence in Pakistan in 2007 and 2008. USAID had a vested interest and granted Democracy International a significant amount for the Pakistan Election Observers, Post-Election Observers, and Political Party Assistance Evaluators to travel and carry out their project. Within these groups there were representatives from U.S. Congress, private topic experts, Project for Middle East Democracy, universities, Center for Strategic and International Studies, RAND Corporation, RTI International, PACT, Development Associates, Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, Center for American Progress, Truman Project, Pollworker Institute, Foreign Service Institute, U.S. Institute of Peace, and Middle East Institute. 

Along with members from all these organizations, Democracy International followed the Electoral Commission of Pakistan as they carried out door-to-door voter registration. DI also worked with the Free and Fair Elections Network, the principal domestic election monitoring coalition, and their findings in the past on Pakistani elections and their coverage of the political and social climate in Pakistan.

Looking at the big picture, it this project was also important for countries like the United States who have a vested interest in Pakistan not falling weak to an authoritarian regime and possible subsequent terrorist group threat and influence in the country. Finally, President Musharraf and candidates Yousaf Raza Gillani, Nisar Ali Khan, and Shujaat Hussain also had an interest in what election observation would do for the future of democratic practices in Pakistan. 

The Project

Democracy International’s democratization effort was trying to support domestic election monitoring by “advising the Free and Fair Election Network, a domestic election monitoring coalition of civil society groups, on a voter registration audit and a nationwide parallel vote tabulation.”  This effort was broken down into mainly the Election Administration stage and Election Day observation. This was then followed up with Post-Election results and analysis. 

In the Election Administration stage (or the first stage) of the project, Democracy International found that the Election Commission of Pakistan was competent, professional, and capable in carrying out the preparations for the election. However, USAID provided supplies such as 200,000 translucent ballot boxes and 6 million numbered security seals coupled with technical assistance for the voter registration process. UNDP provided supplies such as 300,000 new voter screens, developed training materials and handbooks for new election officials, and conducted training sessions. The donor efforts allowed for greater voter confidence and improved ballot secrecy. Because of executive branch interference, however, the ECP was not able to be a completely unbiased and independent body. Democracy International was not in the position to determine whether a possibly swayed ECP resulted in a biased election. It is safe to assume that there is a serious possibility that with the high level of interference, the prospect of a free and fair election was threatened. Additionally, according to the ECP, 35% of the complaints that were received during the campaign were regarding conduct of government officials and the misuse of government resources. This merely emphasizes that a lot of the problems that occur during Pakistani elections are more to do with poor execution of rules and deeply rooted institutional issues.

UNDP, USAID, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) helped support the ECP in their technical capabilities to create and implement a new registration system to override the flawed ones from 1998 and 2002. To do this the ECP went door-to-door registering eligible voters. Unfortunately, ECP missed over 5 million households along with multiple eligible voters in each house. The ECP also requires that each voter have a Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC)  in order for them to become a registered voter. For the 2008 election the Supreme Court ordered for the ECP to waive the rule so otherwise eligible voters could still register. The ECP maintained that voters must have a CNIC to register and vote placing a huge burden on many potential voters who were trying to apply for CNICs; the overall voter list ended up being very inaccurate. Democracy International recommended that in the future there should be an option for voters to have a free, expedited option to obtain a CNIC through the National Database and Registration Authority.

Because of the issues from the inconsistent and flawed election administration, Democracy International had little confidence in the legitimacy of the “free and fair” election that took place. This lack of confidence was coupled with issues such as allegations about ballot manipulation in certain locations, inaccurate voter lists, low voter turnout, and low participation of women. 

In observance of Election Day procedures, DI found that most polls opened on time and followed the process of checking names of lists, brushing the thumbs of voters with indelible ink, and issuing stamped ballots. However there were cases where a number of polling stations opened late, election officers did not follow procedure to mark voters giving way to the possibility of double voting. Democracy International found that there was inconsistency in what constituted as appropriate identification and to what degree did the information of the registrar have to match the CNIC card. Another problem that DI found was that in order to control the flow of traffic, voters would first approach a political party booth to gather voter registration information; this however, could be used as a tactic to compromise the secrecy of someone’s voters and an ideal opportunity for voter intimidation. 

Finally the counting procedures were also riddled with issues. In some cases, observers were not even permitted to witness the counting and claimed it to be a violation of ECP regulation. In Pakistan, individual polling stations do not release their results, which means that observers and political parties cannot compare the votes released from individual polling stations to those with the aggregated results from the ECP. DI observers also saw that in some cases, parties were involved in the counting processes, cell phones were being used during the counting process, unauthorized people were present during counting, there was movement in and out of the facility during counting and there was direct engagement by security forces which could have been used as a scare tactic.


In the pre, during, and post observation of the election, it did not seem that Democracy International went out of their way to do anything innovative and interesting for the sake of merely just observing and following up with recommendations to improve the process in the future. Several foreign organizations such as UNDP and USAID provided technical assistance and resources, which proved to streamline the process. After conducting the project Democracy International came up with a number of recommendations about the election and political institutions. Some of the more pressing recommendations include: 

   - Make the ECP more independent, accountable, and transparent.
   - Redraft and recodify election laws so that is it clear what the law requires.
   - Improve the accuracy of electoral rolls with the institution of continuous voter registration based on the Computerized National
     Identity Card. This is coupled with reduced barriers to obtain an Identity Card.
   - Improve election official training so that there is no issue in following procedure.
   - Post Statements of the Count at the polling stations to establish transparency with voters and make polling results readily available
     from the ECP.
   - Ensure equitable provision of materials for female voters along with addressing the intimidation of female voters.
   - Conduct voter and civic education efforts to encourage political participation of women.

Concluding Remarks

There are a number of conclusions to be drawn from Democracy International’s Election Observation Project in Pakistan. It is important to note that a number of the more blatant issues in the election administration stage and procedure execution on the day of the election can be attributed to deeply rooted institutional issues regarding inconsistent legislature and miscommunication between government bodies, independent bodies, and voters. Additionally, because of executive level corruption and the use of intimidation, a number of procedures, reaching as far as the Election Commission of Pakistan, were not followed properly. The inability for parties to follow the rules could have and most likely did result in faulty election results. Moving forward, Pakistan and citizens of Pakistan must be mindful of the issues that remain in their electoral system and what they can do to fix it. More importantly however, why fixing it is so pressing. If there continues to be faulty, rigged elections, Pakistan will cease to ever reach a point of true democracy. Instead there will continue to be a powerful authoritarian government who is capable of pulling strings and asserting their executive power to make sure that they never lose their place in government.


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