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Polls a referendum against extremism: HRSP

Updated May 27, 2013
— File photo.
— File photo.

LAHORE, May 26: The Human Rights Society of Pakistan (HRSP) in its special report on the general election observes that the elections have marked a referendum against extremism. The nation has rejected fundamentalism and upheld freedom of thought.

The report said the turnout of voters was the highest (55.14 per cent) despite the unfavourable environment prevalent before the elections, threats of target killings of candidates and bomb blasts right up to the day of polling.

The voters stood in queues at polling booths for long hours. This had even prompted foreign observers to declare that the nation of Pakistan braved the violence and expressed their opinion via ballot papers.

After the sanction of the Election Commission of Pakistan the HRSP appointed pivotal persons to all provinces and important places to send their observations about the elections to a review committee of the society headed by its chairman SM Zafar.

After the approval of the working committee the HRSP announced its special report on Sunday.

The pivotal persons were: Saleem Ansari, advocate from Balochistan; Ashfaq Chaudry, advocate from Lahore; Barrister Dr Afzal Javaid from urban areas of Punjab; Abdul Tahir Ansari, human rights activist from Sindh and HRSP secretary-general A.M Shakoori from KPK. The review committee included SM Zafar, Mahnaz Rafi, Dr Humayun Ehsan, Chaudhry Basir Ahmad, A.M Shakoori and Adeeb Jawedani.

General awareness

The report said that credit must be given to the ECP for its efforts to create greater awareness among voters and its timely decisions regarding polling stations and putting them on its website, which were easily accessible to voters. Ballot papers were prepared securely, and preliminary results of the votes cast were supplied to polling agents immediately for counting at each polling station.

Though there were allegations from candidates about the turning out of their agents. However, the ECP had issued unnecessary instructions and questionnaire to returning officers for scrutiny of nomination papers which led to contradictory decisions and final intervention by the judiciary.

ECP's fault:

Some aspects which clouded credibility of elections were also pointed by the special report like the issue of reconstituting constituencies in the country.

It was not attended to although the ECP was constituted well in advance. Since the last national consensus the urban population has increased by about 17 per cent, which required a review of urban constituencies.

This 17 per cent urban population has been denied their share in assemblies. Judicial interference regarding relocation of constituencies to Karachi alone, which forced the ECP to undertake it, has justifiably been criticized by a section of people as discrimination.

The report also mentions failure of the ECP in taking any action against the denial of votes to women in some parts of KP as a result of the Jirga decisions, delay in announcements of results in two districts of Balochistan, violation of transparency of ballot papers in Kachi Jhal Magsi in Balochistan and the recovery of ballot papers from garbage dumps in Gulistan Town, Quetta, ballot papers in the hands of some voters in Sukkur, disturbances at some polling stations in Karachi, absence of staff at some polling stations in Hyderabad and Mirpur Khan.

Overall information about Sindh and Karachi is that elections could not be held satisfactorily.

However, in Punjab the situation reported by pivotal persons was quite satisfactory as there was a good response from the public and overall atmosphere was peaceful.

Law and order:

Overall the general law and order situation was peaceful thanks to the support from the armed forces and in particular the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani’s positive statement that miscreants would be barred from disturbing the polling.

It helped the voters to participate in large numbers. “The HRSP views the interest of the armed forces in the election process as a paradigm shift and positive change.”

Religious parties

The HRSP appreciates the continued confidence of religious parties in the election process and democracy. Their participation played a great role in the referendum resulting in favour of pluralism and democracy.

General comments

The ECP has reportedly spent a huge amount of Rs5.90 billion in the elections, yet the elections have not been free of controversy, which requires an in-depth study by the commission how to plug the holes.

Militants targeting parties

The targeting of three specific political parties, PPP, ANP and MQM, resulted in denying them the level playground. These political parties raised the issue about some Karachi constituencies, but by and large they accepted the results, which are welcomed as the beginning of good tradition.

The role of the interim government:

The HRSP has come to the conclusion that there was no direct interference from the interim government in the elections but its failure to check the law and order situation before the election days can neither be ignored nor justified.