HRW: Pakistan authorities should ensure peaceful transition of power after elections News
Voice of America, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
HRW: Pakistan authorities should ensure peaceful transition of power after elections

Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Pakistani authorities Monday to ensure a peaceful transition of power following the country’s parliamentary elections, encouraging all political parties to uphold democratic norms and cooperate with an independent investigation into alleged election irregularities.

HRW claimed the national parliamentary elections that took place February 8 were “marred” by authorities’ widespread violations of the freedoms of expression and association, and the organization cited the “mass detention and harassment” of supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party as a serious concern. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in January that PTI could not use their electoral symbol on ballots, the party was effectively prohibited from running its candidates in the elections. The UN previously raised concerns over such harassment, and UN Human Rights Commissioner Volker Turk urged Pakistani authorities to use the elections to “recommit to the democratic process.”

HRW expressed additional concerns over the Election Commission’s delay in announcing the election results. The delay sparked controversy around the world, with some candidates claiming the delays demonstrated the electoral irregularities and the US State Department calling for a full investigation of the incident due to such allegations. HRW emphasized Pakistan’s history of similar election irregularities, claiming such incidents continue to significantly endanger the country’s democracy:

The policy of successive Pakistan governments of clamping down on critical voices in the media, nongovernmental organizations, and the political opposition has eroded the infrastructure for upholding human rights and democratic governance. Structural denial of rights, such as requirements for computerized identification cards, has practically disenfranchised marginalized groups, including in this election.

Pakistan is currently experiencing one of the worst economic crises in its history, with millions of Pakistanis experiencing food shortages and low standards of living. HRW emphasized that the human rights challenges resulting from the crisis must be addressed by a government that holds legitimacy, recommending the incoming parliament remove structural barriers to political participation and protect the country from election interference. “The Pakistani government should respect the election results and ensure a peaceful transfer of power,” HRW’s Associate Asia Director Patricia Grossman said. “Pakistani’s deepening human rights and economic crises highlight the need for a representative government that will promote respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.”

PTI-aligned politicians won 92 parliamentary seats in the election, more than any of the other parties. Because they ran as independents, however, the results were split, and no party achieved a majority of the vote. The results came as a surprise to many, largely due to the attempts to remove PTI from the ballot as well as the party’s association with former prime minister Imran Khan. Khan, the founder of PTI, was ineligible to run as a candidate after being sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption, 10 years in prison for revealing state secrets and 7 years in prison for “unlawful marriage.”

Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) was largely expected to win the elections, but the party has now reached an agreement with the other majority party, the Pakistan People’s Party, to form a coalition government. Khan previously announced from prison that PTI would not join either of the parties to establish a coalition.