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HRCP says 'one party' being dismantled, prompting concerns on election’s credbility

"Free and fair elections should be held, and all parties should be given a level playing field,” HRCP says

By Web Desk
January 01, 2024
HRCP Co-char Munizae Jahangir (second from left) speaks during a press conference in Islamabad, on January 1, 2024. — X/@HRCP87
HRCP Co-char Munizae Jahangir (second from left) speaks during a press conference in Islamabad, on January 1, 2024. — X/@HRCP87

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Monday lamented that “one party” was being dismantled, prompting fears that the February 8 general elections would not be free, fair, and transparent.

The rights commission said that all political parties, including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), deserved a level-playing field as the electioneering was also facing gags.

“The election atmosphere is being spoiled [...] free and fair elections should be held, and all parties should be given a level playing field,” the commission’s members said during a press conference in Islamabad.

The PTI has been voicing strong reservations against the “state machinery” as major of its bigwigs — founder Imran Khan and Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi — had their nomination papers for the February 8 elections rejected — and the party’s iconic “bat” symbol also could also be taken away.

The PTI founder, who stepped down as the party chairman last year due to a conviction in a corruption case, is also behind bars and his release seems uncertain as he is being arrested in cases back-to-back, which could prove fatal for PTI as Khan is the party’s voter driving force.

In the presser, HRCP Co-char Munizae Jahangir said one political party — an apparent reference to the PTI — was facing different treatment compared to other parties.

“The reason behind holding elections it to allow people to inform their representatives about their problems. If the voter wants to vote a specific person, it is their due right,” Jahangir, who is also a senior journalist said.

The HRCP co-chair noted that “a party” was being dismantled and told the state “it was not good to strike deals with people”.

“Party workers are being arrested and are then holding press conferences under duress,” she said in a reference to scores of PTI workers being behind bars and facing cases of riots and violence, especially after May 9, when party members targeted state installations.

With the turbulent road to the polls, the HRCP’s senior official said it was crucial for the elections to be free, fair, and transparent to ensure that Pakistan moves in the direction of democratic progress.

In a press handout, the HRCP said there was a blatant manipulation of the electoral landscape in which one political party among others has been singled out for systematic dismemberment.

“While HRCP does not condone violence in any form perpetrated by anyone, the state’s response has been disproportionate and unlawful,” the human rights watchdog said.

“This has assumed a familiar pattern, including arrests of party workers and supporters, lack of transparency concerning the charges involved, crackdowns on party workers’ right to peaceful assembly, enforced disappearances, obvious signs of pressure on party leaders to resign or exit politics altogether and, most recently, the large-scale rejection of candidates’ nomination papers.”

Various other parties have also been subjected to similar tactics to varying degrees, it said, adding that at this point, there is little evidence to show that the upcoming elections will be free, fair, or credible.

The state’s clampdown on dissent, the HRCP said, whether on freedom of opinion, expression, or assembly, has further constricted civic spaces in the country at a time when people must be allowed to express their will freely ahead of a national election.

“HRCP strongly believes that these concerns must be tackled as a matter of priority by an elected government that comes to power in a transparent manner, functions independently of external pressure, and commits to protecting and upholding the rights of all citizens and residents.”