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HRCP’s poll warning

THE Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has issued a stark warning that all right-thinking citizens, institutions of the state and political parties should consider the implications of.

With the run-up to the polls marred by widespread allegations and credible evidence of unfair electoral practices, threats and intimidation, the country’s pre-eminent human rights organisation has warned that polling day itself could be marred by serious controversy and electoral rigging.

If that bleak scenario does turn into reality on July 25, the democratic order in the country could come under severe and perhaps unmanageable strain. There is still time for anti-democratic forces to reassess the situation and reverse course and allow the will of the electorate to express itself freely and fairly on election day.

For all the controversy, the many undesirable decisions taken by the ECP and the caretaker governments, and the grotesque militant attacks suffered by the public and political campaigns, the 2018 general election still offers genuine and wide-ranging political choices to the voting public.

There are also vital economic, governance and security decisions that the next government and parliament will have to make, and it is imperative that whichever party or coalition comes to power it should be widely accepted as credible and legitimately elected.

If the integrity of the vote is to be protected and the necessary minimal credibility of the 2018 election result ensured, the recommendations of the HRCP should be heeded.

The ECP, the caretaker administrations and state institutions must not simply reiterate their commitment to ensuring a free and fair election at this late stage, but should also draw up, implement and widely publicise a set of concrete actions and commitments that can reassure political parties and the public that polling day will be as free and fair as possible.

Arguably, no general election in Pakistan’s history has met the electoral standards enforced in advanced democracies, but it had been hoped that general elections would progress towards the ideal of a free and fair poll.

There were already multiple threats that the public, candidates and political parties have had to contend with — from militant violence to familiar electoral coercion in the less-governed parts of the country — before the possibility of widespread polling-day rigging revealed itself and threatened to override the will of the people.

More than 70 years since Independence, the people of Pakistan need and deserve a relatively clean voting process on July 25.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2018

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