| The Pakistani elections are over finally; all Pakistanis and the international community are very much satisfied on the way elections were held. Many changes were observed in the electoral procedure and in the environment in which elections were held. Domestic and international observers – even almost all political parties and Pakistani civil society – have termed these elections to be fair, free and transparent, saying that less rigging and election-day violence happened than was expected. What’s more relaxing is that all political parties, including the ones which lost, have accepted the results.
The 1970s elections were also called free and fair but the losing party had not accepted the results. But this is all that everyone knows. What many people do not know is the stories of many individuals who were part of the bigger picture of the elections; these stories were unseen and unheard by people all over the world.
In August 2006, I relocated myself from my native home town, Khairpur (located in Sindh province), to Islamabad, the federal capital of Pakistan. I have joined a new organization, a national NGO, Cavish. Upon joining, my office sent me to attend a meeting which was taking place at the office of an international NGO, The Asia Foundation. Before joining this job, I had visited Islamabad only twice in my 23 years of life and was trying to get accustomed to the local environment and learning to navigate the town. I did not know many people in Islamabad. With the help of a colleague, I reached this meeting place. I was quite nervous and had my own fears about this meeting because I was not really used to these kinds of meetings and had little or no information on what this meeting was all about.
Before joining this, I was engaged in adult literacy initiatives at the grassroots level with communities in Sindh and this was far away from these kinds of meetings. Entering the room, I saw only two people inside and soon there was a rush of many people belonging to different NGOs. The arrival of these people increased my nervousness; what made me more uncomfortable was the different talks.
In a few minutes time the meeting began. A staff member from the host organization started a Power Point presentation on what the meeting was all about, following a welcome. There was a host of English terminology used in this presentation which I was not very familiar with; this further increased my level nervousness. Once the presentation was over, the host asked everyone to share their opinions and comments on what was suggested in the presentation. This meeting and a series of other meetings which followed helped us, over thirty NGOs of Pakistan, form Pakistan’s first domestic election observation network – yes, the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN). It was a major learning experience for me.
The FAFEN was created to be a pressure group in Pakistan for promoting electoral reforms and democratic values in the country by observing elections, doing voters’ education and advocating for electoral and democratic reforms. There were many people in the town– Islamabad- and around the country who would ask why we needed domestic election observation when international observers came to observe the elections each time.
The answer was simple. The international observers mostly come to observe elections one or a few weeks before elections and mainly observe election-day activities; on the contrary elections are a process which has many activities in the pre-election and post-election days. So for complete election observation, these three (pre-election-day, election-day and post election-day) phases are observed. And FAFEN was to do this all over the country in a systematic and scientific way. The task was really huge, so huge that many of us could not be sure we would be able to achieve it. But the passion and determination of all the people involved in this work was really a catalyst.
FAFEN was able to accomplish the objectives it set. It has observed the display period of Pakistan’s first computerized electoral rolls. During the display period, the Election Commission of Pakistan had published the draft electoral lists through out country so that people could come to check if their names were on electoral rolls and file applications for the correction of credentials and/ or the registering of their names. FAFEN had observed this process through almost 750 observers across the country and had actually conducted a survey of the list to check its completeness in various dimensions. FAFEN was the only network which did this exercise and “Flawed but fixable – Draft Electoral Rolls 2007”, a comprehensive report based on the analysis of this observation and survey was the outcome of this whole work.
Following this, the next big task that FAFEN took was to prepare for pre-election and election-day observation following the announcement of elections in Pakistan. FAFEN had election observers in each district and constituency of Pakistan. These people were given training on observing the process of the filing of nomination papers by candidates and the election-campaigns run by them. Through this process, FAFEN was able to issue 19 updates on this pre-election observation. These updates were appreciated by all people from all walks of life and by the international community for their quality and consistency.
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Hassan Nasir Mirbahar
Working in a Pakistani NGO; main concentration of my work is on good governance, political participation, election observation and human rights.
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