FAFEN sees threats to transparent election

FAFEN Statement on the Current Political Scenario and its Repercussions on Upcoming Elections

ISLAMABAD, May 15, 2007: The political instability and volatility stemming out of the ongoing judicial crisis may have serious repercussions on the prospects of free and fair elections, says Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN).

FAFEN believes that the way the government has been dealing with the ongoing judicial and political crises seriously undermines the level playing field necessary for the forthcoming general elections. Public rallies all over the country using government resources and attended by the president as well as senior members of the executive explicitly encouraging people to vote for the ruling coalition parties only smack of foul play in the election process that has yet to kick off officially.

The fact that the government has been dealing with the dysfunctional chief justice as more of an opposition leader appears to be an effort to subdue the judiciary and curtail its ability to act independently in profound constitutional questions that are likely to come up ahead of the general elections. The foremost of these questions could be eligibility of the president to seek re-election through the existing assemblies and more so his perpetuation of dual offices.

FAFEN also believes that official mishandling of the ongoing crises, particularly in Karachi where more than 40 people were killed this weekend, is also sharpening ethnic divisions in the country, creating conditions for further violence that may reach its climax during elections. FAFEN also condemns the rise in incidents of violence against media, which can lead to self-censorship of vigorous independent media coverage of election processes.

FAFEN considers that the ongoing crises are also casting dark shadows on even the possibility of the conduct of the general elections. Talk of proclamation of emergency or even imposition of martial law is only causing uncertainty about the holding of general elections. “Instability and uncertainty allow extremist forces to strengthen who show quick fix solutions of issues to people to muster support and garner popularity,” says a spokesperson for FAFEN.

The country cannot afford such shadowy, extremist forces to gain at this critical juncture especially when it has yet to sort out the extremist threat that is posed to its writ particularly in many districts of NWFP and tribal areas. “The rise of extremist forces that rely on power and coercion more than political work will also disallow a level playing field to political contenders in the upcoming elections, as the manipulation of the Bannu by-election demonstrated,” the FAFEN spokesperson says.

An assertive ECP enforcing election laws and taking measures to provide a level playing field for all political contenders is the need of the hour, but instead the government is trying to marginalize the judiciary that will also be ruling on vital issues related to the upcoming general election and all its processes. “The current environment of intimidation that is created by the government in the follow-up to the chief justice episode may seriously jeopardize the will of the judiciary to stand up to official pressures before and during the upcoming elections.”

FAFEN, therefore, demands of the ECP to take measures to enhance public confidence in these important elections by ensuring a level playing field now and throughout the process. This may only be possible when the ECP at least moves against blatant violations of election laws and codes of conduct committed by any of the political contenders. “The ECP should also engage with all political contenders to help diffuse tensions ahead of elections, as well as with civil society in order to keep everyone posted on the preparations that are being made for the upcoming election.”

At the same time, FAFEN calls upon all political contenders, particularly the ruling coalition, to avoid use of state resources for early, illegal activities that amount to campaigning and to move prudently as the only way to stop the political downslide that has the potential of spiraling into further chaos and anarchy. “All sides need to calm down and step back from their existing policy of brinkmanship,” concluded the FAFEN spokesperson.

About FAFEN: The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) is a coalition of thirty leading Pakistani civil society organizations. It was established in 2006 to observe the election process, educate voters, and advocate for electoral and democratic reform.