ECP Must Stop Incitements to Sectarian Election Violence

ISLAMABAD, April 30, 2013 – In the context of escalating violence against certain political parties and candidates, including several deadly attacks over the weekend, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should take strong action to address political speeches that could incite sectarian violence, contrary to the ECP Code of Conduct, according to Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN).

The ECP Code of Conduct for political parties and candidates explicitly prohibits “speeches calculated to arouse parochial and sectarian feelings and controversy of conflicts between genders, sects, communities and linguistic groups” (Article 15) and speeches that “propagate against the participation of any person in the elections on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion or caste” (Article 19).  Also barred is “incitement to violence” (Article 7).

Sectarian provocations are not only a violation of election statutes but also a violation of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws. Therefore, the state security agencies are equally responsible to act against instances that have the potential of disturbing a fragile sectarian balance in the country. Actions must be taken against all proscribed groups or their members running or supporting election campaigns. Equally strict actions are warranted against groups that are either running ant-election campaigns or using strong-arms tactics or terror acts to impede election activities. The writ of the law must take its course to establish a level playing field for all contestants and to ensure a peaceful election.

In addition to the use of mosques and other religious places for campaigning, media and FAFEN long-term election observers report that several parties and candidates are using religion in their campaign speeches, including telling voters to “vote for Islam”.

One example reported in the media on Sunday (April 28) is comments from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) (JUI-F) accusing an opposing party of working for various religious “lobbies” and threatening that “there will be a bloodbath” if the opponent comes to power. These comments are tantamount to incitement to violence based on religion, violating several articles of the ECP Code of Conduct and requiring decisive action by ECP.

FAFEN commends the proactive statements by the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) last week condemning violence in the name of religion.  Religious leaders in the Council said elections are compatible with Islam and voting by women and men is important for the future of Pakistan.

These General Elections will be the first held since Pakistan ratified in 2010 the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  ICCPR obligates the state of Pakistan to adopt all necessary measures to ensure that “every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity … to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections” (Article 25) “without distinction of any kind, such as … religion, political or other opinion, or other status” (Article 2).

About FAFEN: FAFEN, a coalition of 42 civil society organizations, started the direct observation of the National Assembly proceedings in 2008, using a methodology based the rules of the parliamentary business. The direct observation was extended to the proceedings of Senate and the provincial assemblies in 2011.