EU observers' report
Much to the delight of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the Hazar Khan Khoso-led erstwhile caretaker government, the EU Election Observation Mission considers the May 11 general elections as better organised than those of 2008. That May 11 elections were "much more free and fair" than before was the key observation that the mission made in its final report released here on Wednesday. Quite a few changes over the previous electoral exercise have been highlighted in the report which the mission believes helped improve the quality of the general elections that have thrown up this PML (N)-led coalition government. But having said that the mission report conspicuously stops short of calling it 'free, fair and transparent', as promised by the ECP and the then government. As to where the May 11 elections fall short of earning the EU observers' full marks the devil is in the detailed account of the exercise meticulously collected and narrated by its 150-plus members who observed and monitored it in 184 constituencies of the National Assembly. In fact, both in the body of the report and its precisely put out recommendations, the mission tends to separate the conduct of elections from the nature and composition of the electorate. Rightly so, it warns that the May 11 elections may have been very good, but a lot more needs to be done to strengthen the representation quality of future elections. For this to happen, "now is the time for new parliament, the Election Commission and other stakeholders to demonstrate their commitment to democratic Pakistan".
Copyright Business Recorder, 2013
And that is no mean challenge - because the recommendations proposed by the mission involve not only seven constitutional changes but reframing 17 pieces of other relevant legislations. For instance, the mission wants removal of the "vague moral conditions open to subjective interpretation", which means amendment to Articles 62 and 63 that spell out qualifications and disqualifications for membership to parliament. Of course, the need for this change was dearly felt as scores of candidates were disqualified by the Returning Officers, only to be qualified by higher judiciary, but can the parliament remove these conditions from the constitution is easy said than done. Another recommendation calls for limiting candidates to run in only one constituency - yet another tough challenge given that top party leaderships cannot afford to take risk of losing and thus become politically irrelevant. That the prevalent electoral culture in Pakistan is geared to strengthen the strong, at the cost of weaker sections of our society, on it the mission report is quite troubled. That the women are fast losing political ground to the opposite gender the report presents an interesting statistics. As compared to the 2008 general elections when 16 women won on general seats only six were elected in the 2013 election. And even the number of women elected on reserved seats is added their representation in parliament is 19.3 percent, as against the Beijing Declaration requirement of 32 percent. No surprise the EU mission report reminds Pakistan of the imperative of setting up a special parliamentary committee on elections 'to review related legislation within the framework of international law commitments' on candidacy criteria, transparency requirements and mechanisms for effective remedy'.
Most of the recommendations concern our future elections. But the report has also spoken its mind - unambiguously and assertively - on the quality of the May 11 general elections, which will hopefully settle some dust being kicked up by the ECP's critics. For instance, the mission has ruled out suspicion that the election was rigged - much to the disappointment of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and a few others. It has also ruled out involvement of intelligence agencies in the process - vicariously, dispelling the gossip that Nawaz Sharif has been catapulted to the top slot in pursuance of an international agenda. And there is a message for the media also: it should exercise editorial independence and ensure equitable opportunities to candidates and parties.