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ISLAMABAD: In the context of the Supreme Court’s decision of last month that disallowed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to contest the recently-held general polls on its electoral symbol, the Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) has said that it has “noted the impact of the decision which disallowed the party symbol of a main political party.”

“We note the impact of legal decisions on the ability of some candidates to run for office in the days leading up to election day, including a decision which disallowed the party symbol of a main political party,” Chairperson COG on Pakistan’s general polls and former president of Nigeria Dr. Goodluck Jonathan told the media on Saturday.

“Stakeholders expressed concerns about the impact of this decision, insofar as it curtailed the right of voters to exercise their franchise, particularly illiterate voters. They also conveyed concerns that members of the affected party would not be eligible for reserved seats.

Commonwealth team visits Sindh EC office

We observed that candidates conducted traditional and social media campaigns. We received reports of some candidates’ campaigns being disrupted, thus affecting their right of peaceful assembly and the right to participate in the electoral process,” he addressed a presser.

Without naming the PTI, he said, the Group received reports of incidents of intimidation and even violence against candidates, members of the media and other citizens.

“We received reports that state media coverage was more favourable to some candidates and parties than to others. We note with concern certain media laws and their application, as well as of pressure faced by some members of the media in regard to their coverage of the election, including for self-censorship and in regard to their safety.

We commend those members of the media who withstood such pressures. We welcome the various fact-checking efforts by traditional media platforms and fact-checking organisations to mitigate the high incidence of disinformation, fake news and hate speech. We encourage such efforts to continue,” he said.

Dr Jonathan shared the Group’s concern over restrictions placed on internet access, and, in particular, the shutdown of internet and mobile phone services on the polling day, “which curtailed freedom of speech, ease of communication as well as other political rights.” He also noted that the Election Management System (EMS) could “not operate as intended on election day.”

In addition, he said, the location of CCTV (closed-circuit television) cameras in some polling stations “could have compromised the secrecy.”

The COG chairperson said the Forms 45 (after the polling) were due to be sent through the mobile phone application, but the shutdown of internet and mobile coverage compelled presiding officers to rely solely on manual transmission of the forms. “We received reports that this adversely impacted the processing of results. We will reflect on this further in our final report,” he stated.

Some polling stations, he said, were relocated a considerable distance away from their original locations, to which some voters may not have been able to travel.

The COG encouraged the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and development agencies to address such challenges.

Some political parties, Dr Jonathan said, did not meet the requirement of having at least five percent women candidates on their party lists for general elections.

More than 5,000 candidates stood for general elections to the National Assembly, of whom, approximately only six percent were women, he pointed out. “We note reports of some communities that sought to deter women from campaigning and voting. We also note that there remain some barriers to the full participation of minority communities in Pakistan,” he said.

Agencies add:

Dr Goodluck Jonathan appreciated the performance of the Election Commission and said the polling was held in good environment. “The people came to polling stations in huge numbers on the Election Day and many youngsters participated in the electioneering,” he said.

He also condoled the death of security officials in the terror incidents during poll-related activities.

Dr Goodluck added that some irregularities were observed in a few areas but the polling staff worked in a very professional way.

He also congratulated the country for holding elections and hoped that the whole exercise would be concluded smoothly.

Dr Goodluck requested the people to have patience and wait for the final results.

He expressed his gratitude for the invitation to observe the elections and commended the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for logistical preparations amid challenges. The group adhered to principles of impartiality, non-interference, and independence during its deployment, engaging with various stakeholders.

Appreciating the role of Election Commission of Pakistan, he said that the COG observers were deployed in various areas including Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Karachi, Hyderabad and Abbottabad on February 6, 2024 to observe election preparations.

Dr Jonathan mentioned the substantially reformed legal framework leading up to the 2024 General Elections, emphasising the importance of continued reform in line with the Constitution and Commonwealth Charter values. The areas for refinement in the legal framework will be detailed in the final report.

Lauding the reduction in the national gender gap in registered voters and the reserved seats for women, he noted concerns regarding the participation of women candidates and some communities discouraging women from campaigning and voting. The youth engagement in campaigns, especially on social media, was commended, but challenges for minority communities were mentioned.

The COG chairperson underscored the importance of a legal and administrative environment conducive to citizens’ right to run for office and vote. He noted the implementation of codes of conduct for political parties and the media, with calls for more stakeholder engagement.

He emphasised the significance of elections in democracy, called for magnanimity in victory and graciousness in defeat, and reiterated the Commonwealth’s commitment to supporting Pakistan’s post-election journey.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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Wahidullah Feb 11, 2024 10:00am
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