(New York, October 9, 2002)
- Pakistan's entire election process has been deeply flawed and the October 10 parliamentary vote is stacked against democratic rule, Human Rights Watch said in a backgrounder released today.
"In the three years since the coup, Pakistan has witnessed a consolidation of military power rather than a transition to democracy," said Brad Adams, Executive Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "Pakistan's international partners cannot ignore this fact any longer. They need to insist on progress toward democracy in Pakistan."
"In the three years since the coup, Pakistan has witnessed a consolidation of military power rather than a transition to democracy. Pakistan's international partners cannot ignore this fact any longer. They need to insist on progress toward democracy in Pakistan."
Executive Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.
Adams said it may be too late for this election to be conducted in a free and fair manner, but it was still crucial that election day, and the vote-counting process, remain free of intimidation and corruption.
In its backgrounder, Human Rights Watch said that Pakistan's military government has employed a variety of legal and political tactics to control the process and outcome of the elections. Those tactics include constitutional amendments giving President Pervez Musharraf virtually unfettered powers over parliament and government, and the revision of electoral procedures that effectively eliminate the leaders of the two major political parties from participating in the election. At the same time, the military government has offered overt support to Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e Azam (PML-QA) candidates, while working hard to sideline two mainstream political parties: the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
In the weeks preceding the elections, human rights activists, Pakistani journalists as well as the PML-N and the PPP members have alleged extensive poll-rigging by the military government. Allegations include the relocation of polling booths at the behest of the PML-QA, the appointment of polling officers handpicked by the PML-QA, the tearing down of campaign posters and banners, police raids on PPP and PML-N offices and police harassment of PPP and PML-N workers and candidates at the behest of the government. On October 6, Punjab's Jhelum district police forcibly closed two election offices of the PPP and one of the PML-N and beat up their workers. In response to various complaints, the Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan issued a statement on September 21 warning the police not to harass any contesting candidate.
The European Union and Japan have sent a delegation of election observers to monitor the election process while the Commonwealth has sent a team of monitors to determine whether conditions exist for a free and democratic election.
Human Rights Watch urged the Pakistani government to take measures to address election-related abuses and a meaningful transfer of power to civilian rule following the elections. These include:
- Ensure the political rights of all candidates, regardless of their party affiliation;
- Allow international and domestic election observers unfettered and unconditional access to polling stations;
- Allow the Election Commission to immediately investigate allegations of poll-rigging and police raids on political party offices and take corrective action;
- Immediately rescind all restrictions on political meetings and rallies imposed after Musharraf's October 1999 coup; and
- Withdraw constitutional amendments unilaterally imposed in August that formalize the military's role in governance, including the formation of a military dominated National Security Council.
The international community, and the United States in particular, have been reluctant to speak out forcefully on the issue of democratic reform in Pakistan in order to encourage Pakistan's continued support in the war against terrorism. When he met President Musharraf at the U.N. last month, U.S. president George W. Bush praised Pakistan as a "key partner" in the war on terrorism but made only vague comments about reform, saying adherence to democracy is key.
The U.S.-Pakistan Defense Consultative Group met in Islamabad from September 24-27, the first time since U.S. sanctions were imposed following Pakistan's nuclear tests in 1998, to discuss arms deals and the possible resumption of joint military exercises. The U.S. authorized the sale of aircraft, harpoon missiles, and other equipment totaling about U.S. $400 million. More arms transfers are expected.
"Rewarding Pakistan prematurely with more military aid is a mistake," said Adams. "Any new military aid should be linked to the government's willingness to make more fundamental changes to restore civilian, constitutional rule and place human rights and the rule of law at the heart of the new government's agenda."
Human Rights Watch called on the international community to:
- Offer a genuine assessment of the elections process based on international standards, taking into account legal and political developments in the pre-election period, the voting and counting process, and the post-election period leading to the formation of a new government;
- Investigate allegations of election-related abuses (EU and Commonwealth monitors, as well as embassy monitors);
- Support the efforts of domestic election monitors;
- Urge Pakistan to reverse steps taken to consolidate military rule; and
- Refrain from providing any additional military aid or arms supplies until Pakistan implements meaningful democratic reforms.