Pak polls show people`s commitment to democracy: EU

The unprecedented turnout in Pakistan`s general election reflected the people`s commitment to democratic rule, despite an "unbalanced" playing field and "distorted" election process, EU mission observing the landmark event said.

Updated: May 13, 2013, 20:55 PM IST

Islamabad: The unprecedented turnout in Pakistan`s general election reflected the people`s commitment to democratic rule, despite an "unbalanced" playing field and "distorted" election process, an EU mission observing the landmark event said on Monday.

"Election day showed the commitment of the people of Pakistan to democratic governance by overcoming militant violence. We saw a competitive process, with twice as many candidates as there were in 2008," said Michael Gahler, chief observer of the EU Election Observation Mission.

He however, said that some political parties were unable to campaign because of threats from the Taliban.

Various aspects of the election process had improved, but there were still shortcomings and the framework for polls should be developed to strengthen democracy, Gahler told a news conference.

Voting at 90 per cent of the polling stations in 184 constituencies covered by the EU observers was "satisfactory or good", while irregularities were detected in nine per cent of polling stations, Gahler said.

There were 62 election-related security incidents on election day that resulted in 64 deaths, the EU mission said in a preliminary statement.

Before the landmark polls on Saturday, over 150 people, including candidates, were killed in attacks by the Taliban and other militant groups.

The European Union (EU) mission noted that the targeting of three secular-leaning parties Pakistan People`s Party, Awami National Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan "unbalanced the playing field and distorted the election process considerably in affected areas".

There were 130 attacks resulting in the the death of 150 people in the last four weeks. The majority of the attacks took place in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, followed by Sindh and Punjab.

Most of the attacks were directed against candidates and supporters of parties identified as secular, the statement said.

The EU mission did not visit Balochistan and the tribal belt because of the security situation in these areas.

The fact that some parties were not able to campaign freely is a "serious issue", Gahler said.

Violence during the campaign and the voting was "terrible but must not overshadow the achievements of the process", said Richard Howitt, a member of the European Parliament.

"The turnout in defiance of the threats against the process was an extraordinary vote of confidence in democracy itself," he said.

Though Gahler acknowledged that this year`s polls were more transparent than the 2008 general election, the EU mission was critical of the performance of Pakistan`s Election Commission.
The poll panel had "not used its broad powers to establish a complete regulatory framework, leaving critical aspects of the election open to discretion and the Election Commission vulnerable to inadequate decision-making. Furthermore, the Election Commission did not undertake full responsibility for all aspects of the election administration," the statement said.
This was the first instance when a civilian government has handed over power to another in Pakistan, which has been ruled by the military for half its history.