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EU stresses timely, full probe into all poll ‘irregularities’

EU focused and criticized lack of a level playing field for all politicians in the present elections

By Mariana Baabar & Murtaza Ali Shah & Wajid Ali Syed
February 10, 2024
European Union Flags fly outside the European Commission building in Brussels, Belgium. — AFP/File
European Union Flags fly outside the European Commission building in Brussels, Belgium. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON/LONDON: The European Union (EU) has asked Pakistan’s relevant authorities to ensure a timely and full investigation of all reported election irregularities and also urged the future government to show respect for human rights in line with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The first overseas detailed reaction to the February 8 elections, even before the announcement of complete official results, came from High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign and Security Policy Josep Borell, on behalf of the European Union. He also asked the future government to implement the recommendations of the upcoming EU Election Expert Mission report.

The EU focused and criticized “lack of a level playing field for all politicians” in the present elections. Due to the lack of level playing field, “there was inability of some political actors to contest elections, restrictions to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression both online and offline, restrictions of access to the internet, as well as allegations of severe interference in the electoral process, including arrests of political activists,” Josep Borell added.

“The EU attaches paramount importance to political pluralism, democratic values, independent media, vibrant civil society, judicial independence and international human rights standards, which are key for democratic elections. We call on all political actors in Pakistan to engage in a peaceful and inclusive dialogue aiming at formation of a stable government and to respect human rights in line with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, as well as with international treaties to which Pakistan is party,” said the EU High Representative.

While emphasizing politicians to settle their differences, he pointed out that the (Pakistan) authorities were faced with the challenging task of countering serious terrorist threats and attacks. “The EU condemns all acts of violence, which took place in the lead up to elections and calls on all parties and actors to use peaceful and democratic mechanisms to settle differences, refraining from further violence,” he advocated.

The EU takes note, he added, of completion of the polling in the general election, which took place on February 8 in Pakistan, following several months of postponement and uncertainty, and in a context of a tense security environment. “The participation by the Pakistani people to exercise their right to vote, despite systemic barriers still faced by women and persons belonging to minorities, demonstrates their commitment to democracy and the rule of law,” he added. The EU welcomed the increased number of women registered to vote compared to the last elections.

At a time when the EU has renewed the GSP+ status for Pakistan, and a new government will soon be formed, Josep Borell said the EU would want Pakistan to continue reforms in the areas of human rights, good governance, as well as labour rights and environmental standards, to address the shortcomings outlined in the GSP+ report of November 2023 and to continue the necessary economic reforms.

“Pakistan is an important partner for the European Union and we look forward to continuing to work with the government of Pakistan on the priorities agreed in the EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan,” he said. Meanwhile, the United States is prepared to work with the next Pakistani government, regardless of political party, to advance our shared interests, the State Department said on Friday while demanding that claims of interference or fraud should be fully investigated.

“We will work with the Pakistani government, regardless of political party, to advance our shared interests, and strive to bolster democratic institutions and broaden political participation,” the department’s spokesperson Matthew Miller posted on X.

In a detailed statement issued separately, the spokesperson said: “We now look forward to timely, complete results that reflect the will of the Pakistani people.”

“We join credible international and local election observers in their assessment that these elections included undue restrictions on freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly,” the statement said adding, “We condemn electoral violence, restrictions on the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including attacks on media workers, and restrictions on access to the Internet and telecommunication services, and are concerned about allegations of interference in the electoral process. Claims of interference or fraud should be fully investigated.”

The statement further said: “We look forward to bolstering our partnership by supporting Pakistan’s economy through trade and investment. We will continue to support Pakistan strengthening its democratic institutions, engage through the U.S.-Pakistan Green Alliance Framework, broaden people-to-people ties, and promote human rights including freedom of expression. We are also committed to strengthening our security cooperation and creating an environment of safety and security that affords the Pakistani people the peace, democracy, and progress they deserve.”

It commended Pakistani polls workers, civil society, journalists and election observers for their work to protect and uphold Pakistan’s democratic and electoral institutions. The statement mentioned that millions of Pakistanis made their voices heard by voting in the elections on February 8, with record numbers of Pakistani women, members of religious and ethnic minority groups, and youth registered.

Meanwhile, the British government has said that it is concerned “about the fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections” held on February 8.

In a statement as the final count was still to be announced, Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron said the UK and Pakistan enjoy a close and long-standing relationship, underpinned by strong links between our people.

He commended the voters but said, “We regret that not all parties were formally permitted to contest the elections and that legal processes were used to prevent some political leaders from participation, and to prevent the use of recognisable party symbols. We also note the restrictions imposed on internet access on polling day, significant delays to the reporting of results and claims of irregularities in the counting process.”

Lord Cameron said in reference to Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) losing the bat symbol ahead of elections and inability of many senior leaders not to take part in elections.

He said, “The UK urges authorities in Pakistan to uphold fundamental human rights including free access to information and the rule of law. This includes the right to a fair trial, through adherence to due process and an independent and transparent judicial system, free from interference.”

Lord Cameron said the UK government looked forward to working with Pakistan’s next govt. He said, “The election of a civilian government with the mandate to deliver crucial reforms is essential for Pakistan to flourish. The new government must be accountable to the people it serves and work to represent the interests of all Pakistan’s citizens and communities with equity and justice. We look forward to working with Pakistan’s next government to achieve this and across the range of our shared interests.”

David Cameron, the former British leader who forced the Brexit referendum, returned to PM Rishi Sunak’s government as foreign secretary four months ago.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has deplored the delay in announcement of election results which, under Rule 84 of the Election Rules, should have been communicated by the returning officers to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) by 2am early Friday morning and made public shortly thereafter.

“If, under the rules, the returning officers had incomplete results by this time, they were legally bound to tell the ECP why, also indicating which vote counts were still awaited,” a release said on Friday. “This lack of transparency is deeply concerning. Moreover, we see no plausible reason to attribute this delay to any extraordinary circumstances that might justify it,” added the release.