'Scrutiny for Pak candidates should have objective criteria'



Islamabad: The head of a European Union observer mission on Monday responded to the intrusive scrutiny of candidates in Pakistan's general election by saying that the right to contest polls is fundamental and people should have access to due process.

Michael Gahler, a member of the European Parliament who is heading an observer mission of over 100 members, said the "right to stand in elections is fundamental" and any scrutiny of candidates should have "objective criteria, due process and consistent application" of methods.

Gahler was responding to a question at a news conference about the widely criticised questioning of candidates by Returning Officers across Pakistan.

During the scrutiny process, which ended yesterday, Returning Officers were seen on television asking candidates to recite Quranic verses and to reveal intimate details about their lives.

Civil society groups and political parties strongly criticised the questioning by Returning Officers, most them judges deputed to help the Election Commission.

The Lahore High Court and the poll panel subsequently directed the officials not to ask any irrelevant questions.

Gahler, who also led the EU mission that observed Pakistan’s last general election, said the "huge and widespread suspicion" about the polls in 2008 was "not prevailing now".

The Election Commission, which was chosen by consensus among all political parties, was "more responsive" and "more transparent", he said.

The EU election observation mission will include 11 experts, 52 long-term observers and 46 short-term observers.

It is likely to be joined during the election day on May 11 by a delegation from the European Parliament and diplomats from some EU member states.

The mission will keep a watch on Pakistan’s adherence to commitments made in human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Islamabad ratified in 2010.

Though the mission will have observers in parts of three provinces ? Punjab, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa its members will not be deployed in Balochistan and the tribal areas due to security concerns.

"While we would like to be in all parts of the country, we cannot be. This is partly because we have limited numbers and partly because of security concerns," Gahler said.

PTI