RECENT report from Pattan-Coalition 38 an umbrella group comprising several civil society organisations, labour unions, and intellectuals paints a very troubling picture. The organisation believes that the authorities have failed to register all eligible voters in 102 of the 134 districts in the country, and that the number of enrolled voters exceeds the total number of persons eligible to vote in 17 of the remaining districts. This could mean that come election time, many citizens who are eligible to cast a vote will discover they cannot because their names do not exist on the ECP`s electoral rolls. In districts where there is over-enrolment, there would also be considerable room for unscrupulous elements to manipulate final vote counts with the aid of the `ghost voters` that allegedly exist in the ECP`s database. If accurate, these findings have significant implications for the principle of universal suffrage and, prima facie, signal a major failure on the part of the ECP and Nadra, both of which are responsible for ensuring that all citizens who qualify to participate in the electoral exercise may do so with minimum hindrance.
The report states that as much as a third of the voting-age population has not been enrolled in several of Balochistan`s districts. Similarly, in 21 of KP`s 35 districts, voter registration is `low or very low` considering the district demographics.
Similar trends have been seen in most districts of Punjab and Sindh as well. The quantum of people who could potentially be disenfranchised, therefore, is staggering. On the basis of its calculations, Pattan-Coalition 38 believes that as many as 13m citizens are `missing` from the ECP`s data. The organisation also believes that it is women, the youth and the poor who have been disproportionately undercounted. `A small addition or suppression of registration of vote can lead to a huge impact at the national and provincial level […]`, the study warns. It is hoped that the ECP has taken notice. It has previously delayed elections, in violation of the Constitution, on the excuse that it must ensure that polls are held under conditions that are `free and fair`. If the findings presented by Pattan-Coalition 38 are sound, the ECP needs to purge its electoral rolls and enrol all missina voters post haste if it wishes to stay true to its mandate.