More than 50 million voters participated in the general election held on February 8, according to the preliminary observation report by the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in Pakistan. Despite a prolonged period of polarization lasting two years, voter turnout stood at 48 percent, as stated by Mossarat Qadeem, the chairperson of FAFEN, during a briefing.
Acknowledging criticism from various political factions, Qadeem commended the Election Commission for successfully conducting the election, emphasizing the closure of uncertainty following the electoral process. She stressed the responsibility of political parties in ensuring stability in the nation post-election. Furthermore, she urged the Election Commission to promptly address the reservations raised by political entities and candidates concerning the election results.
ROs offices and lack of form 45
With 5,664 observers deployed nationwide, the transparency of the electoral process was maintained up to the polling stations, although concerns were raised regarding the conduct of returning officers (ROs). Notably, presiding officers at 28 percent of polling stations failed to provide copies of Form 45 to observers, and access to RO offices was restricted.
The FAFEN report highlighted instances where the margin of rejected votes exceeded the winning margin in 25 constituencies. Additionally, it noted the election of twelve women and eight independent candidates with no party affiliations. While the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) maintained its vote bank, both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) saw increases in their vote shares.
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The report also pointed out deficiencies such as the absence of Form 45 copies outside 29 percent of polling stations, alongside the impact of mobile phone and internet shutdowns on voter turnout. Despite challenges including concerns over a level playing field and terrorist incidents, political parties participated in the election. However, the nationwide suspension of internet and cellular services on polling day drew criticism from Amnesty International and political stakeholders, particularly the PTI, which heavily relied on social media for its campaign. The government defended the move citing security concerns and the need to maintain law and order.