Rights panel finds shortcomings in Pakistan polls

Islamabad, May 13 (IANS) The Pakistani authorities did not succeed in ensuring level playing ground for all parties, their candidates, activists and voters, said the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan which recommended a serious initiative to revamp the Election Commission of Pakistan.

The panel has brought out its preliminary report which recommended revamp of the ECP, redefine its priorities, reduce bureaucrats’ meddling in political matters, and grant due representation to women in key positions.

It also noted that the 2013 election was “the costliest ever in the country’s history, and the people with modest means were put at further disadvantage”. The report, however, did not peg the costs.

It also recommended that the legal obligation to review the electoral rolls on year-to-year basis should be strictly honoured and the election staff and the political parties given adequate training in the use of new lists a considerable period in advance of the polls.

The panel noted that the “pre-poll environment was seriously marred by large-scale violence that denied a significant number of candidates and voters of a tension-free climate for campaigning and voter-candidate interaction”.

“The authorities did not succeed in ensuring level playing ground to all parties, their candidates, activists and voters.”

The report said the fact that violence continued to disrupt election-related activities till the day of polling “raised serious doubts about the efficacy of the scheme of having elections under caretaker regimes”.

“There were a number of complaints of voters facing coercion in whom they did or did not vote for, including in a number of constituencies in Karachi. There were several clashes between workers of political parties across the country, which is something that these parties need to take a serious look at if they intend to realize their professed goal to work together to overcome the challenges facing the country.”

It went on to say that the 2013 election was “the costliest ever in the country’s history, and the people with modest means were put at further disadvantage. The expenses incurred by parties and candidates on publicity through the electronic and print media crossed the limits of decency”.

On women’s rights, it said despite a consistent campaign by women’s organizations and rights activists for ending discrimination against women “they were again denied their right to vote at numerous places, such as Lower Dir, although at a few places they did cast vote for the first time”.

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