Amid Heightened Insecurity, Pakistan’s Election Observers Get Ready
May 8, 2013
Against a backdrop of heightened insecurity and increasing violence in the lead-up to Pakistan’s general elections, slated for this Saturday, more than 43,000 trained, non-partisan volunteers are gearing up to observe approximately 70,000 polling stations in all 272 constituencies across Pakistan. If general elections take place according to schedule, May 11 will prove to be one of the most significant events in Pakistan’s history, and would mark the first time in the country’s 66 years that a legitimate and democratic transition of power took place.
With the completion of the government’s five-year term, Pakistanis have a renewed sense of optimism and longing for change. In the face of serious threats, citizens, civil society groups, international bodies, and political parties have continued with election preparations, resolute that a true democratic system can transpire in Pakistan through open and fair elections. At the opposite end of the spectrum, though, is a powerful and abiding force of terror, the ultra-conservative militants, determined not only to disrupt elections, but to derail the path to democracy, which they have come to associate with all things un-Islamic.
Election observation is a critical prerequisite of the democratic process, ensuring that elections are held in a free, transparent, and non-violent environment, guaranteeing the rule of law, and more importantly, building confidence among citizens in the electoral process itself. The last is particularly vital given Pakistan’s volatile political history, where democracy has been repeatedly undermined by rampant corruption, feudalism, military dictatorship, and more recently, ongoing violence and terrorism targeting secular parties, ethnic and religious minorities, and political opponents, particularly PPP, ANP, and MQM, who have lately been under attack.
Within this political context, safeguarding the rights of voters during elections is an imperative. The Asia Foundation and our local partner, the Free and Fair Elections Network (FAFEN), are preparing election observers and monitors, and have developed a comprehensive, systematic electoral process, from pre-election monitoring to Election Day observation and post-election results tabulation. Election observation is based on historical trends and lessons learned from 2008 election monitoring, such as information on voter turn-out rates, constituencies with low female participation, and areas of high security risk. The Foundation has worked to strengthen the capacity of long-term observers to assure quality of pre and post-election observations, initiate voter mobilization campaigns in polling areas across the country where female voter turnout was negligent in previous elections, and monitor short-term observers.
Observers, accredited by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), will work alongside international observation missions to determine the extent to which the election processes comply with Pakistani and international standards, including the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Pakistan in 2010. These short-term volunteers will actively observe polling stations using standardized checklists to document non-compliance of electoral laws, rules, and regulations. This Election Day is expected to have the largest number of observers ever deployed in Pakistan’s election history.
To say that the future of Pakistan rests on these elections is no understatement. Yet the ongoing violence, which has certainly challenged the country’s already fragile democratic institutions, presents a very real threat to voters and election officials despite enhanced security vigilance and planning. Only a strong, defiant voting population committed to asserting its democratic rights can offset these challenges, because ironically, the most effective tool in combating terrorism is a robust and flourishing democratic platform in which citizens are empowered through active engagement and participation, and guaranteed equal rights under the law. Here’s hoping May 11 will begin with fair voting and culminate in strengthened, transparent, and accountable governance in Pakistan.
Ameena Ilahi is The Asia Foundation’s deputy country representative in Pakistan and Ali Imran is a senior program officer there. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.
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