Update @ 0503: Free and Fair Election Network on Elections Under Emergency – An Oxymoron

Via e-mail from the Thematic Group Coordinator — Afreina Noor, at the FAFEN’s (Free and Fair Election Network) Secretariat in Islamabad, who sent in the text of their position paper on Elections Under Emergency – An Oxymoron. FAFEN is a coalition of thirty leading Pakistani civil society organizations and was established in 2006 to observe the election process, educate voters, and advocate for electoral and democratic reform, FAFEN has also announced that they are considering the possibility its election observation of the conditions they have outlined are not met given the currently situation in Pakistan:

Elections under a “state of emergency” run contrary to best election practices around the world. Elections are not sufficient condition to democracy. They must be held in an environment that provides a level playing field to all contenders and enables the will of people to be expressed through the vote without any pressure. The fact that elections will be held under the state of emergency raises serious concerns about the fairness of the electoral process.

As a result of the imposition of the state of emergency on November 3, 2007, Pakistan lacks conditions that are a prerequisite for a free election. The independence of judiciary has been compromised. Fundamental rights of people continue to be suspended. Political activities are banned. Citizens and civil society activists are arrested by security and intelligence agencies. Media is controlled by new laws to restrict its ability to give unbiased information to people.

Rights to assembly, association, expression and movement are fundamental to a free election. Any election that is held without citizens and political contenders enjoying these rights cannot be fully free and fair.

The action against judges who were set to rule on the constitutionality of Gen. Musharraf’s credentials as a presidential candidate compromises the integrity of the process that will have implications on the general election. The role of independent judiciary is critical to the conduct of election in Pakistan, as it is an essential part of the election administration as well as adjudicating on election disputes.

In view of this, Free and Fair Election Network urges the following measures for legitimate elections that reflect the political will of the people of Pakistan:

1. The state of emergency must be lifted immediately . Neither Election Day nor the political campaign that precedes the election can be held under a state of emergency, which lacks the fundamental qualities of rule of law and a balance of powers.

2. The independence of the judicial branch must be assured . The Supreme Court justices who were hearing the case regarding General Musharraf’s candidature prior to November 3, 2007 must rule on that case and be reinstated to the judiciary. An independent judiciary is essential for fair elections so that they can play their legally mandated role.

3. Caretaker Government of National Consensus is must . A government comprising neutral, non-political and impeccable personalities must be set up that enjoys confidence of all political parties as well as opposition parties for the interim period. It should be selected through a process of nomination by all stakeholders.

4. Freedom of assembly must be guaranteed. Political party representatives must be released from detention immediately. A free election requires robust competition among candidates in which the electorate is well-informed about candidates’ differing platforms or viewpoints. A real political campaign can only be held in an environment with equitable access to open media, a “playing field” not dominated by the incumbent government, and security provided equally to all competitors by the state so that voters do not fear attending political events. The elections also should not have a pre-determined result based on prior agreement among contestants.

5. Freedom of the media is essential. Media must not be blocked from the airwaves and must be able to express multiple points of view freely without fear of interference or retribution. All electronic channels whose transmission has been blocked by the government must be allowed to broadcast forthwith. All new laws that infringe on the freedom of media must be repealed. Elections without a free media cannot be transparent, fair, or free.

6. Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of free elections . In addition to political party representatives and journalists, also activists, lawyers, and members of the public must be released from detention immediately. Elections must be held in an atmosphere in which the free speech of every citizen is fully respected.

7. Freedom of Movement is critical. There should be no restrictions on the movement of all political party leaders, including former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, workers and activists to campaign and canvass among any constituents anywhere in the country.

8. Security and intelligence apparatus has no role in free election. The involvement of security and intelligence forces in an election context has the potential to intimidate or silence all election stake-holders including candidates, media and voters. The only role of law enforcement agencies is to assist the election administration in providing security for campaigning and for voting.

9. State resources should not be used to project government achievements: Use of state resources to project the achievements of the present government through advertisements in electronic and print media must be stopped forthwith, as it is giving an unfair advantage to the incumbents. State media must be instructed by the Election Commission of Pakistan to give an equal coverage to all political contenders.

Free and Fair Election Network is also considering the possibility of discontinuing its election observation if conditions that are not conducive to free, fair and transparent election continue to prevail.


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