Insights and Analysis

In Pakistan: Building a Culture of Accountability through Election Observation and Voter Education

February 27, 2008

By Ashley Barr

Election Day in Pakistan just happened, but groundwork for a domestic observation network was laid a long time ago. In 2006, with technical support from The Asia Foundation and in preparation for national and provincial assembly elections scheduled for 2007/08, Pakistan’s Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) began to take shape. FAFEN‘s goal was to become the first Pakistani election observer group to use a long-term, nationwide, systematic, statistically-driven methodology, following international standards and best practices.

FAFEN‘s 30 member organizations started by observing local by-elections and the nationwide public display of the draft voters list in mid-2007. The network conducted the first statistically-valid audit of the draft voters list, and successfully advocated for the final electoral roll to be posted on the Election Commission of Pakistan’s website. In September 2007, FAFEN began training long-term observer coordinators in 264 (out of 272) National Assembly constituencies, and publishing a series of 19 “Election Updates” based on weekly compilations of observers’ data from around the country.

Meanwhile, an innovative FAFEN voter education campaign focused on themes like the qualities of good leaders, voters as safeguards on the election system, and men’s role in facilitating women’s participation in the electoral process. FAFEN hosted the first nationwide “Meet the Candidates” public forums, in which all candidates from each National Assembly constituency were invited to sit together and respond to potential voters’ questions. The Asia Foundation worked with FAFEN NGO partners to develop a set of posters, stickers, brochures, and waterproof canvas flipcharts for voter educators. One unique leaflet featured a women’s polling booth and highlighted the key steps in the voting process. The partners developed eight Public Service Announcements for radio, television and broadcast in public venues, and as many television discussion programs in local languages on subjects like election security and women’s participation.

FAFEN‘s effort to deter fraud on Election Day ” February 18, 2008 ” was helped by the Election Commission of Pakistan which announced publicly and repeatedly that there would be more than 20,000 domestic national election observers all over the country. The network’s strategy was for 16,000 paired stationary observers to monitor a random sample of about 8,000 (out of 64,000) polling stations all day, collecting detailed information about voting, counting, and compilation of results. Thousands of Pakistani women monitored Female Polling Booths and Stations using a tailored manual and reporting format, and wearing specially-printed FAFEN headscarves (chadors). An additional 4,000 mobile observers visited as many as 30,000 polling stations, making the 2008 national and provincial assembly elections the most closely watched in Pakistani history, despite widespread security concerns and enormous logistical obstacles.

The random selection of observation sites is now enabling FAFEN to extrapolate from its data to draw conclusions about each constituency and province, as well as the national electoral system. The statistical sample also allows for FAFEN‘s Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) data to confirm that vote counts from the polling stations have been aggregated accurately.

Among the issues FAFEN documented during the pre-election period were lack of enforcement of Pakistan’s Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Contesting Candidates, local government officials’ and security agencies’ partisan involvement in the process, use of state resources for campaigning (including state media), judicial electoral officials not adhering to Election Commission regulations, and missing and duplicate voters on the electoral roll. Election Day concerns included significant restrictions and harassment of election observers and candidates’ polling agents, unauthorized local “influentials” in polling booths, inconsistencies in voter identification requirements, and low-level violence among candidate representatives and others.

Pre-election iniquities substantially biased the “playing field,” in FAFEN‘s view, but Election Day irregularities were not so severe as to alter the results in most constituencies. FAFEN‘s final analysis will depend upon sets of observer checklists still arriving from around the country and being tabulated. All of FAFEN‘s pre-election updates, public statements, reports, voter education materials, and several observation manuals and checklists are posted on their website at

FAFEN‘s unique effort to contribute to public transparency and accountability in Pakistan was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, and on CNN, BBC, and many other national and international news outlets. The Asia Foundation is making a documentary of FAFEN‘s work, and the network is writing a manual on domestic election observation methodology. FAFEN is still busy planning to observe the adjudication of electoral petitions, by-elections, and the formation of the new government. The network also hopes to maintain momentum through nationwide programming designed to keep constituents connected to their elected representatives and to monitor the new assemblies’ legislative agenda.

Ashley Barr is The Asia Foundation’s Election Program Team Leader in Pakistan.

Related locations: Pakistan
Related programs: Conflict and Fragile Conditions, Elections


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