Pakistan Needs ‘Civilian Supremacy’ for Human Rights

Five days after Pakistan’s dirtiest elections ever, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) asserted the need for civilian supremacy within Pakistan. The HRCP stated that “a political mandate” was not “an end in itself” and that “political rhetoric alone” would not suffice.

The HRCP urged the new government “to take serious note of the challenges that continue to beleaguer Pakistan’s democratic development” and to address issues like “enforced disappearances, constraints to freedom of expression and association, tainted processes of accountability, lack of respect for the separation of powers, the erosion of independence among institutions, and the shrinking space open to civil society.”

The HRCP stated that “while the conduct of the polls was, overall, orderly and peaceful” both HRCP observers and political parties had lodged complaints “regarding the management of post-poll formalities. Numerous reports that vote counting was poorly handled – with polling agents prevented from observing the final count in many cases – and the unprecedented delay in results have cast a shadow over the electoral process. These questions must be diligently addressed to avoid any doubts concerning the credibility of the elections.”

The HRCP also noted: “The contention that has arisen over reports that polling agents and/or observers were not given a copy of Form 45 – to which they are entitled under the law – needs to be addressed swiftly and convincingly by the ECP. It is difficult to believe that this should have occurred in so many instances solely due to poor management. HRCP’s observers have confirmed similar reports in numerous constituencies, including, among others, Sialkot, Mansehra, Abbottabad, Charsadda, South Waziristan Agency, Kurram Agency, Chiniot, Lasbela, Gwadar, Mastung, Loralai, Panjgur and Quetta.”

The HRCP also referred to the fact that “polling staff relied visibly on security personnel to clarify balloting procedures. The ECP must address this apparent lack of training well before the next elections. In at least three cases, however, the presence of security personnel has borne out HRCP’s original concerns. In NA 24 (Charsadda), security personnel were observed separating ballots into invalid and valid votes. In NA 21 (Mardan), they intervened when observers attempted to ask the presiding officer about the ongoing polling. Observers at one polling station in Islamabad report that security personnel demanded that women voters show them their stamped ballots. The principle of vote confidentiality cannot be compromised in this way and HRCP maintains that the presence of security personnel inside polling booths is the thin end of the wedge.”

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