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Pakistan Goes to the Polls

On February 18, 2008, Pakistanis went to the polls to vote in elections for the National Assembly (the lower house of parliament). The elections have taken place in a period of tumult, after President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition in November 2007 of a state of emergency, his controversial and illegal November 2007 election as president, his sacking and arrest of many members of the country’s Supreme Court, and the December 27 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. In a rebuke to President Musharraf, opposition parties made major gains and appear to be in a position to form a coalition government. Nonetheless, the pre-election period was marred by widespread electoral manipulation and a concerted attempt by the government to prevent or reduce the scale of an opposition victory. Human Rights Watch has documented politically motivated violence; threats and intimidation of opposition candidates and party members; lack of independence of the judiciary; the jailing of many lawyers and activists, many of whom remain detained; a biased electoral machinery; and excessive restrictions on media freedom. Human Rights Watch believes that judgments on the credibility of the Pakistani election should take into account the pre-election period, the days voting and counting ballots, and the post-election period that deals with complaints and the formation of a new parliament. Elections should be judged on processes, not outcomes.  
Human Rights Watch also notes that repressive measures and arbitrary legal changes designed to strengthen Musharraf in the presidency at the expense of the powers of parliament, put in place in recent years and after Musharraf imposed a state of emergency on November 3, 2007, can only be rolled back through constitutional amendments that require a two-thirds parliamentary majority. In addition, a vote of two-thirds of all members of the National Assembly and the Senate is necessary to impeach the president. Thus, while the opposition parties have posted impressive electoral gains, early results suggest that Musharraf may have succeeded in preventing the opposition from achieving the two-third majority needed to amend the constitution or to end his rule.



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