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June 29, 2018

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Will Elections 2018 be free and fair?

ISLAMABAD: A raging controversy among political stakeholders sparked by seemingly hyper NAB activity has brought sharp criticism from experts who think this could cast a long shadow on the fairness of Elections 2018.

The News on Thursday contacted constitutional experts Abid Hassan Minto and Justice (R) Wajihuddin Ahmed, Pildat’s chief Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Mudassir Rizvi from Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), General (R) Asif Yasin Malik and General (R) Amjad Shoaib to know their views about the present pre-poll situation and whether or not they foresee the holding of fair and free elections in the country.

Abid Hassan Minto expressed concerns about political engineering and curbs on media, which he believed are attempts to control the elections. Justice (R) Wajih also doubts about the holding of free and fair elections under the prevailing political scenario. He said that impression is being created that the NAB is active against only one political party.

The Pildat chief talked about the trend of uneven playing field for one party and undue favours to another, which he termed as pre-poll rigging. According to Fafen’s representative, the existing political environment is not conducive but on the basis of this impression one cannot comment whether elections would be free and fair.

Former secretary defence General Asif Yasin Malik believes there is no such thing of absolute free and free elections in any part of the world. He said there will be some objections and complaints of rigging on individual level but the elections as a whole will be fair and free.

General (R) Amjad Shoaib said elections will be fair and free. The retired general rejected any notion of pre-poll rigging. However, he raised questions on NAB’s action against PML-N leader Raja Qamarul Islam and disqualification of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. He said the NAB has never done its work properly right from the beginning

Abid Hassan Minto said that under the present scenario it is very unlikely that free and fair elections can be held. “I don’t have the statistics of NAB cases against political leaders on the basis of which I could comment whether the accountability bureau is involved in witch-hunting of a specific political party. The curb on media is also an indication to control the general elections,” Minto said.

Justice (R) Wajihuddin said the current political situation in the country is alarming.

“We should promote the culture of accountability but it should be across the board. An impression is being created as if the NAB is active against only one party. The NAB should remove this impression otherwise this would ultimately lead to a question mark against free and fair elections,” he said.

Lieutenant General (R) Amjad Shoaib said the NAB action against Raja Qamarul Islam is questionable and the Bureau should issue a clarification statement about this. “Just a week before his arrest, the NAB issued him clean chit but within few days, it arrested him. This requires explanation that why the NAB did so. Similarly, I believe disqualification of former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also raises question,” he said.

The retired general totally rejected any impression of pre-poll rigging and said the elections would be free and fair. He said the NAB should actively pursue cases (if there are any) against the PTI leaders. Talking about pre-poll rigging, the retired general says it is our culture that the runner up party never accepts the results with open heart and makes hue and cry. However, he said if there were any individual incidents of rigging, then the whole system cannot be blamed and overall the elections will be fair and free. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, head of Pildat, said an environment for pre-poll rigging has been created for the last one year by extending favours to a specific political party. He said this trend of uneven playing field for one party and undue favours to another is a sort of pre-poll rigging. “The operative, technical and logistical preparedness of the ECP is much better than the previous elections, therefore the elections should be free and fair. But, there are some factors which reflect that the elections would not be free and fair,” he said.

Talking about the factors which indicate the elections would not be free and fair, he said there are many but some key factors include controlling the media, favouring a specific political party and targeting the other one.

Mudassir Rizvi, head of Fafen, said though the existing political environment is not conducive, but on the basis of this impression one cannot comment whether elections would be free and fair. According to him, if there is an impression that the NAB is involved in witch-hunting of a specific political party, then one should verify it on the basis of facts.

“The Election Commission has obtained NAB’s opinion on every candidate if they have any NAB cases or they are NAB convicts. According to the NAB data which it presented to the ECP, only five politicians cannot contest elections whereas the NAB has raised objections on five other politicians as well. Therefore, if NAB takes action against any other politicians other than these 10, then one has to see the context of the NAB’s action,” Rizvi commented. He said it is very difficult to assess whether the elections would be free and fair because it is something for the people of Pakistan to decide.

Lt Gen (R) Asif Yasin Malik said fair and free elections is a relative term.

“Nowhere in the world you will find any precedent where everybody accepts the election result and terms it free and fair. Even in a country like the United States, the allegations of rigging were levelled during Trump’s presidential elections. Hence, there might be some individual cases where we will find any evidences of rigging, but as a whole the elections would be completely free and fair,” Asif Yasin said.

Talking about the impression of pre-poll rigging and victimisation of a specific party by the NAB, the former defence secretary said there is no such thing. “It is these politicians who appointed the chairman NAB. The previous chairman NAB cleared all cases of Zardari and Nawaz. The PML-N was in power till May 31, 2018, then who stopped them from taking action against the politicians from other political parties if there were any cases against them. Who saved Asif Zardari? These politicians protect each other and now if the NAB is taking action then why this hue and cry,” he said.

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