ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) has expressed its extreme concern over the continuing “overreach” against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and “the rising tide of autocratic attitudes” towards media in Pakistan on the occasion of International Day of Democracy.

“The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government had already taken unprecedented and dangerous perspective towards the constitutional body of the ECP when the prime minister and key federal ministers made the ECP a target of scathing criticism,” says the Pildat statement here on Wednesday.

It said that this all began with Prime Minister Imran Khan blaming the ECP to have “damaged democracy and morality” and then key federal ministers demanding resignation from the ECP members.

However, it said yet another terrible and utterly condemnable low was reached when federal Minister for Railways Azam Swati during a meeting of the Senate committee lashed out at the ECP saying the constitutional body should be “set on fire”.

“Instead of resorting to better sense and sensibility, other federal ministers joined the deplorable chorus of attacks against the ECP,” it said.

Condemns speaker’s act of locking parliament’s press gallery

“Pildat deplores the continuing irresponsible attitude of some of the government ministers towards the ECP and stands in solidarity with the commission,” says the statement.

Another important index of state of democracy is media freedom. International voices have consistently criticised the PTI government for its massive crackdown on media and for failing to protect media freedom in Pakistan.

Most recently, the Reporters without Borders included Prime Minister Imran Khan in the “gallery of grim portraits of 37 heads of state or government who crack down massively on press freedom.”

Despite continuing domestic and international criticism in this regard, yet another low was reached on Sept 13 when the press gallery in the National Assembly was locked and journalists were barred from entering it when President Arif Alvi was addressing the joint session.

“It is inexplicable how a politically-elected government can stoop so low to deny freedom of information and maintain a hostile attitude towards media. Denying media entry into the press gallery to cover the president’s address to the joint session is utterly condemnable,” said Pildat.

As an indigenous independent think tank working to strengthen democracy and democratic governance in Pakistan for the past two decades, Pildat maintained that instead of weakening democracy in Pakistan, the government must realise that Pakistan’s future is tied to strengthening and not undermining democracy.

The International Day of Democracy is celebrated every year on September 15 and provides a global opportunity to review state of democracy in the world. Across global indices of democracy in 2021, alone, the Pakistan government has a lot of distance to cover in strengthening the state of democracy in the country.

In 2021, Pakistan’s rank has dropped a point from the last year score of 38 out of 100 to 37 out of 100 in the Freedom in the World 2021 index by Freedom House.

In Sweden’s V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) report titled Autocratization Turns Viral: Democracy Report 2021, Pakistan is characterised as an ‘Elected Autocracy’ and falls in bottom 30-40% countries with a rank of 116.

Similarly, Pildat reminded that the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Democracy Index continued to place Pakistan in the category of ‘Hybrid Regime’ with a score of 105.

Pildat, however, expressed satisfaction at the recently-concluded “peaceful and largely fair elections” of the country’s cantonment boards.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2021

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