Islamabad Politics Report/Moazzam Raza Tabassam: Although national voter turnout decreased marginally from 53.62% in 2013 to 51.99% in General Election 2018 (GE-2018), as many as 8.45 million more voters turned out to vote as compared to General Election 2013 (GE2013), indicating an abiding commitment and interest of citizens to exercise their right to choose their government representatives.
Although encouraging, voter turnout in GE-2018 has yet to match the turnout of parliamentary elections regionally and globally. Pakistan ranks with Bangladesh in the South Asian region regarding voter turnout during parliamentary elections. Elections to other neighboring democratic institutions, such as the Nepalese House of Representatives, Sri Lankan Parliament and Indian Lok Sabha, witnessed 78%, 77% and 66% turnout, respectively, during their last elections. Globally, the British House of Commons had a turnout of 69% during its snap elections held in June 2017. Other Westminster-style parliaments, such as the Australian House of Representatives and Canadian House of Commons, also had turnout as high as 90% and 68% in their last elections, respectively.
The significant increase in the number of voters is primarily due to an unprecedented increase in voter registration between the two general elections – from 86.18 million in 2013 to 105.96 million in 2018. The increase in the number of registered voters in the five years between the 2013 and 2018 elections (19.77 million) was more than the increase in the 10 years between the 2002 and 2013 elections (14.27 million). Similarly, between polls in 2002 and 2008, only 8.88 million were added to the electoral rolls, and between polls in 2008 and 2013, the voter population increased by a mere 5.39 million.
The remarkable growth in registered voters for GE-2018 may be explained by a heightened emphasis on voter registration following the enactment of Elections Act, 2017. Sections 12(c), 47 and 48 of the Act require the Election Commission of Pakistan to facilitate maximum voter enrolment, especially by women. ECP’s Gender and Disability Group, District Voter Education Committees (DVECs) and synergies with civil society were among the key factors in augmenting the GE-2018 electoral rolls.
Provincial Voter Turnout Trends
During GE2018, almost 5.17 million more voters turned out in Punjab, 1.81 million more in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) including Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), 0.77 million more in Sindh, 0.64 million in Balochistan and 55,851 more in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) as compared to GE-2013.
The 2018 turnout in KP showed a mixed trend, with slight variations from 2013 turnout in most districts, while a few districts had remarkable deviations from previous elections’ turnout. Like 2013, the singleconstituency-district of Chitral witnessed the highest turnout (61%) in the province.
North Waziristan Agency’s sole constituency recorded a turnout of 48.6% in the past election, which dropped to 23.3% in GE2018, the lowest in the province and second lowest in the country. This plunging turnout phenomenon was also witnessed in Khyber Agency, Kurram Agency and Dera Ismail Khan. Kurram Agency’s turnout declined from 58.4% to 39.2% in five years, and Khyber Agency’s turnout from 41.3% to 31.1%. In the previous delimitation, Dera Ismail Khan (D.I. Khan) had two constituencies, one of which was shared with Tank district.
Both districts had a cumulative turnout of 55% in 2013. In the fresh delimitation, D.I. Khan got two constituencies of its own, while Tank was given a separate constituency. The cumulative turnout in D.I. Khan constituencies dropped to 31.4%, while Tank’s turnout remained 43.7%. On the other hand, Bajaur Agency’s turnout jumped up to 39.6% from 29.6% between two elections. Similarly, the Upper Dir and Lower Dir constituencies had a joint turnout of 31.5% in 2013, which increased to 46.6% in Lower Dir and 48.3% in Upper Dir during the recent polls.
The turnout in Punjab districts witnessed a generally declining trend, except Dera Ghazi Khan (D.G. Khan) where the turnout registered a slight increase from 51.8% to 52.2%. Among provincial districts, Pakpattan had the largest turnout slump from 65.3% to 58.6%. Bhakkar had the highest turnout during GE-2013 (68.7%) as well as GE-2018 10 (67%), whereas D.G. Khan had the lowest turnout (51.3%) in 2013 and Vehari (50%) in 2018. No extraordinary deviations from usual turnouts were observed in Punjab.
Nearly all districts in Sindh had a lower turnout than previous elections with the exception of Tharparkar, where the turnout registered a slight increase from 69% in 2013 to 70% in 2018, which is also the highest turnout across provinces. On the other hand, 36.4% turnout in district Kashmore was the lowest in the province. Notably, Karachi Central, Karachi West, Korangi and Thatta districts recorded the highest turnout dips. Karachi Central’s turnout decreased from 57.3% to 39.2%, Thatta’s turnout from 61.4% to 43.4%, Karachi West’s turnout from 53.3% to 40.4%, and Korangi’s turnout from 53.9% to 39.1% in five years.
Although Balochistan witnessed an overall increasing turnout in 2018, a constituencywise comparison of turnouts reveals that only eight constituencies as compared to ten in 2013 had an above 40% turnout across the province. In 2013, the highest turnout in the province was 61.5% in the constituency that includes Kachhi and Jhal Magsi districts. In 2018, the highest turnout came down to 56.02%, recorded in the shared constituency of Lasbela and Gwadar districts. The constituency that Gwadar shared with Kech in the previous delimitation had the lowest turnout (16.01%) in 2013, but the lowest turnout in 2018 was 20.58%, recorded in the shared constituency of Chagai, Nushki and Kharan districts.
The female voter turnout in GE-2018 was comparatively lower than male voter turnout across the country and across assemblies. Only 46.89% of registered women voters cast their ballots for the National Assembly as compared to 56.07% registered men voters. In absolute figures, 11.18 fewer women polled their votes on election day as compared to men. This data is not surprising since there are approximately 12 million fewer women on the electoral rolls than men.
In Punjab, male turnout was 48.87% and female turnout 40.03%, while 5.75 million fewer women voters turned out for polls than men. In Sindh, male turnout was 50.87% against 42.46% female turnout, with 2.09 million fewer female votes than men.
In KP including FATA, the difference between male turnout (51.77%) and female turnout (32.96%) was starker than any other province, with 2.77 million fewer women than men turning out to vote in the region.
In Balochistan, male turnout remained 48.87% against a female turnout of 40.03%, with 0.48 million fewer women than men exercising their right to vote. The turnouts for provincial assemblies also depict a similar picture with 10.66 million fewer women voting for 570 PA constituencies than men.
The female turnout was above 70% in five constituencies – NA-221 Tharparkar-I, NA222 Tharparkar-II, PS-54 Tharparkar I, PS-55 Tharparkar II and PS-56 Tharparkar III. Only one out of four PA constituencies in Tharparkar had a female turnout below 70%. The female turnout remained higher than male turnout in these constituencies, and their overall voter turnout was the highest across the country.
Moreover, in three KP constituencies – two NA and a PA – female turnout remained less than 10% of the total polled votes. Election Act, 2017 Section 9 empowers the ECP to declare polling void if the female turnout was less than 10% of the polled votes in the constituency. The relevant constituencies are listed in Table 2 with the number of women votes, total votes and percentage of women votes.
ICT’s three constituencies, namely NA-52, NA-53 and NA-54, had male turnout of 67.14%, 61.08% and 58.46% respectively, while female turnout in these constituencies was 60.96%, 51.36% and 49.46%, respectively.
In Sindh, the highest male turnout (70.52%) was recorded in NA-222 Tharparkar II and the lowest male turnout (36.84%) in NA-203 Kamber Shahdadkot-II. The highest female turnout (72.84%) was witnessed in NA-221 Tharparkar I and lowest female turnout (27.19%) in NA-250 Karachi West-III.
Besides the highest and lowest male turnout constituencies in Sindh, 26 NA constituencies had a male turnout between 41% and 50%, while male turnout in 28 constituencies was between 51% and 60%. Categorized by female turnout, five NA constituencies in the province witnessed a turnout between 21% to 30%, women turnout in 23 constituencies was between 31% and 40%, females voted in 19 constituencies at rates between 41% and 50%, 11 constituencies between 51% and 60% and three constituencies above 60%.
In KP, the highest male turnout (60.98%) was recorded in NA-38 Dera Ismail Khan I and the lowest male turnout (25.68%) in NA-49 South Waziristan Agency-I Tribal Area-X. The highest female turnout (61.57%) was witnessed in NA-1 Chitral and lowest female turnout (7.81%) in NA-10 Shangla. The maximum female turnout did not cross 50% in any of KP’s 51 NA constituencies except one.
Five NA constituencies in KP had a male turnout between 31% and 40%, 10 constituencies between 41% and 50%, and 33 constituencies between 51% and 60%, while two constituencies had a below 30% male turnout. Categorized by female turnout, as many as six NA constituencies in the province witnessed a turnout between 11% and 20%, 15 constituencies between 21% to 30%, 17 constituencies between 31% and 40%, and nine constituencies between 41% and 50% women turnout. Three constituencies had a below 10% female turnout (see Table 2) and one had above 60% turnout.
In Balochistan, the highest male turnout (61.65%) was recorded in NA-258 Loralaicum-Musa Khail-cum-Ziarat-cum-Dukkicum-Harnai and the lowest male turnout (37.07%) in NA-271 Kech. The highest female turnout (56.94%) was witnessed in NA-268 Chagai-cum-Nushki-cum-Kharan and lowest female turnout (24.96%) in NA266 Quetta-III. Nine NA constituencies in Balochistan had a male turnout between 41% to 50% and five constituencies between 51% and 60%. One constituency had an above 60% and one below 40% male turnout.
Categorized by female turnout, two NA constituencies in the province witnessed below 30% women turnout, seven constituencies had turnout between 31% and 40%, four constituencies between 41% and 50% and three constituencies between 51% and 60% women voter turnout.