Poll results will reflect people’s choice, hope Commonwealth experts

Published February 11, 2024
Head of Commonwealth Observer Group Goodluck Jonathan addresses a press conference, on Saturday.—Tanveer Shahzad
Head of Commonwealth Observer Group Goodluck Jonathan addresses a press conference, on Saturday.—Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: The Commonwealth Observer Group to Pakistan on Saturday expressed the hope that the election result process would conclude effectively and reflect the will of people, urging the public to exercise restraint.

Sharing preliminary findings of the group, the head of the observer mission, Goodluck Jonathan called upon the candidates to be magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat.

“We call on all those with grievances to address disputes through prescribed election dispute resolution mechanisms.”

He said the group noted the impact of legal decisions on some candidates’ ability to run for office in the days leading up to election day, including a decision that disallowed the electoral symbol of a main political party.

Voice concern over impact of legal decision about electoral symbol

“Stakeholders expre­ssed concerns about the impact of this decision, insofar as it curtailed the right of voters to exercise their franchise, particularly illiterate voters. They also conveyed concerns that members of the affected party would not be eligible for reserved seats,” he said.

He said the group observed that candidates conducted traditional and social media campaigns. “We received reports of some candidates’ campaigns being disrupted, thus affecting their right of peaceful assembly and the right to participate in the electoral process.”

Highlighting the importance of a legal and administrative environment in facilitating citizens’ right to run for office and to vote for their chosen candidates, he said the group received reports of incidents of intimidation and even violence against candidates, members of the media and other citizens. “We also received reports of arrests and detentions, especially of supporters and members of a main political party.”

Mr Jonathan said the group noted with concern the restrictions placed on access to internet, in particular, the shutdown of internet and mobile phone services on the election day, which curtailed freedom of speech, ease of communication, and other political rights.

He also spoke about display of the signed Form 45 outside each polling station after counting concluded.

“We note that these forms were due to be sent via the mobile phone application, but the shutdown of internet and mobile coverage compelled presiding officers to rely solely on manual transmission of the forms. We received reports that this adversely impacted the processing of results. We will reflect on this further in our final report,” he remarked.

State media coverage

He said the group received reports that state media coverage was more favourable to some candidates and parties than to others.

“We note with concern certain media laws and their application, as well as the pressure faced by some members of the media in regard to their coverage of the election, including for self-censorship and in regard to their safety. We commend those members of the media who withstood such pressures,” he said.

Mr Jonathan said the group recognises the security challenges faced by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). “We note that, in the lead-up to election day, there were attacks, which resulted in the unfortunate loss of lives.

“Recalling the Statement-I issued on 7 February, I wish to reiterate my condemnation of these attacks. I offer my sincere condolences to the people of Pakistan, especially the families of the victims, and wish a quick recovery to those injured. I commend all polling and security officials for ensuring the safety and security of polling stations and enabling the people of Pakistan to exercise their right to vote,” he remarked.

“We note the additional challenges posed by adverse weather conditions. We commend voters, polling officials, and others who braved the cold and even snowbound conditions in some areas on election day. We are cognisant of the effects of the devastating floods in 2022, when many voters lost their Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs). We are aware of reports that some voters could not secure new CNICs in time to cast their ballot on election day.”

He said the group also noted that some polling stations were relocated a considerable distance away from their original locations, to which some voters may not have been able to travel. “We encourage the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), the ECP, and development agencies to continue to address such challenges.”

Mr Jonathan said it was noted that the 2024 general elections took place against the background of a substantially reformed and improved legal framework, initiated prior to the previous general elections in 2018. It is hoped that this reform process will continue to be met in accordance with the Constitution, both in letter and spirit, and the values enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter.

“Where the Group identifies areas that the legal framework could benefit from refining, we will make recommendations in our final report, in keeping with the Commo­nwealth’s whole-of-election-cycle approach.”

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2024

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