ISLAMABAD: A coalition of over four dozen non-governmental organisations has expressed concern over the quality and credibility of upcoming elections, to be held amid political instability and uncertainty in the country.

“The excessive dragging of military and judiciary in the political discourse and disagreements among all political actors does not augur well for the credibility of future elections,” said a declaration issued by the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) on Friday.

It said the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), being the custodian of integrity of elections, should assert its constitutional powers reinforced under Elections Act, 2017 to ensure that the general elections to be held this year were transparent, credible and fair so that public confidence in democracy and its values was reinforced.

Approved by the coalition’s general council, the declaration urged all democratic forces to initiate a national dialogue to reverse the dangerous trends of negativism, polarisation and uncertainty.

It called upon the political parties, media and civil society organisations, and public and state institutions to make prompt and conscious efforts to reverse the deepening polarisation that had created fault lines within society at a time when the country was facing serious internal and external challenges amid terrorism and changing geopolitical situation in the region.

The Fafen statement said it had become imperative for all political and social actors to put aside their petty political disagreements and respond to the greater challenges, ranging from poverty, unequal distribution of wealth and resources, erosion of human rights and civil liberties, rise of extremism, social conflicts and tensions among organs and institutions of the state.

There was a need to put an end to increasing social and political exclusion of women and minorities, it added.

Fafen regretted that the country’s ‘political dichotomy’ had undermined state institutions, the Constitution, parliament and judiciary, the National Action Plan and above all democratic and human values.

The NGOs stressed the need for state institutions to only act within the constitutionally defined limits and said the trichotomy of powers must be preserved.

“Let the parliament be supreme, let the judiciary act independently, let the state institutions be insulated from political interference and let the law deal with public and elected officials transgressing their powers and those who are involved in corruption,” they said in the declaration.

Fafen also expressed concern over the shrinking space for civil society, media organisations, and social and political rights advocates in the country, which was systematically being eroded by the government through regressive legislation and regulations and by forces appearing to be acting to protect state institutions.

The space was being allowed to be occupied by forces of extremism, perpetuating violence, added the statement.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2018