ISLAMABAD - A controversy erupted yesterday between the Election Commission of Pakistan and an independent election monitoring network over the issue of election observers to see the local government polls in the Punjab and Sindh due on October 31.

The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), a coalition of 30 non-governmental organisations accused the ECP of not allowing 3,500 election observers who had been trained to monitor the polls.

It said the ECP was putting unnecessary restrictions on Fafen’s independent observation of the upcoming local government elections in Sindh and the Punjab. The ECP, for the first time, has asked Fafen to seek security clearance of more than 3,500 observers, which is not only possible but also unprecedented.

Mudassir Rizvi, head of Fafen, told The Nation that his office had communicated with ECP about giving accreditation to the observers back in August, regretting the commission was asking for security clearance of the observers on a short notice.

“Why do they impose the condition of security clearance of observers, which has not been precedent in the past? Fafen’s observers watched the recent by-polls in NA-122, NA-144 and PP-147 without any security clearance,” Rizwi stated.

A spokesman for the ECP confirmed that Fafen had been asked to provide security clearance of its thousands of observers, arguing the sensitive situation called for background of the election observers.

Fafen spoke high of ECP Secretary Babar Fateh Yaqoob for entertaining the election observers. It, however, blamed ‘old bureaucrats’ in ECP for stopping the election monitors.

He said political parties had been requested to pressurise the ECP to allow the observers, arguing the monitors were local people whose identity cards had been shared with the authorities.

Rizwi regretted the ruling PML-N had not extended help in this regard whereas other political parties had assured him of persuading the ECP to allow the observers.

He said each observer is given Rs 1,500 as travel and lunch expenses. “We have trained the observers how to watch the election exercise. Preventing them from watching the polls is tantamount to discouraging free and fair elections,” he said.

To a question whether the two provinces would go to polls without election observers, the Fafen’s head said the observers would oversee the polls even if the ECP did not agree to give them accreditation.

“Our observers are also voters. They will cast votes and gather information about what happens at a particular polling station,” he vowed. Established in 2006, the Fafen is a coalition of 30 non-governmental organisations to observe the general elections and mobilise voters. The Asia Foundation facilitated the formation of the network.

It has monitored two general elections held in 2008 and 2013 besides overseeing by-elections and the LG polls held in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in May this year.

It has expanded its scope to work from election oversight and reforms to parliamentary oversight and reforms, governance and political parties’ oversight and reforms. Fafen is currently governed by the Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability (TDEA).

LG POLLS’ 3RD PHASE DELAYED FOR TWO DAYS: The ECP in a notification issued yesterday said the third phase of LG polls in the Punjab and Sindh would be delayed for two days. According to the schedule, the third phase of LG polls in the Punjab was going be held on December 3. On account of the chehlum of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) that occurs on December 3, the third phase polls would now be held on December 5 with the two-day delay.