On this basis, Pakistan received its freedom

Elections in Pakistan: Better legal framework, but restrictions on freedom of the press and competition

On July 25, the Movement for Justice (Tehreek-e Insaf / PTI) led by former cricket star Imran Khan won the parliamentary elections in Pakistan. She prevailed against the previous ruling party, the Pakistani Muslim League (PML-N) and the Pakistani People's Party (PPP). The German MEP Michael Gahler led the EU election observation mission in Pakistan for the third time in a row. Here he describes his experiences and takes stock of the course of the elections.

The promotion of democracy and the rule of law around the world is one of the declared policies of the European Union. Democratic elections are a prerequisite for legitimate governance. Outside the geographical area of ​​responsibility of the OSCE, the EU independently conducts long-term election observation missions.

The prerequisite for this is an invitation from the government concerned. In addition, the political and legal framework must be designed in such a way that, in principle, democratic elections can be held. If this is not the case, we do not want to give a misguided impression just by being there.

The political framework of the EU observer mission

If an invitation is available and the decision has been made to send a core team to the capital, an "exploratory mission" takes place a few months in advance, a "feasibility study", which checks in advance whether it is responsible, especially under logistical and security aspects, to have a core team in the capital and in the In the present case, to send 30 teams of two long-term observers into the country.

In the years 2002, 2007/8 and 2013 this had already been the case in Pakistan, this time an invitation was received and the preparations began. In addition to the chief election observer and his deputy, the core team consisted of the press officer, who maintains contacts with the media, and the media analyst, who, with the support of a large number of local staff, evaluates the reporting of the local media (7 TV channels, 3 radio Programs, 4 newspapers), a country expert on domestic politics, a legal expert, an electoral law expert, an expert on human rights in general and women's and minority rights in particular, and two coordinators for the long-term observers.

When this framework is in place, it can in principle begin. As a rule, a preliminary report covering the period up to election day is presented at a press conference two days after the election. Two months later there is a final report that covers all phases of the electoral process and includes recommendations. These concern, for example, ways of improving the legal framework, such as strengthening the independence and working capacity of the electoral commission or optimizing the electoral lists. They also point out existing international obligations as well as possibilities to make certain procedures more transparent or to “parliamentize” them, to improve the dialogue with civil society or, especially in the case of Pakistan, to expand the participation of women.

Implementation of the recommendations from previous missions

The recommendations of 2002 had practically not been taken into account at the time. This fundamental problem existed in previous years with many election observations: after the final report, it was filed in the country itself, but also in Brussels and, at best, dug up again the next time with the sad conclusion that nothing or hardly anything was actually taken to heart, let alone implemented.

I was aware of this situation when, at the end of 2007, I personally promised the then Foreign Commissioner Bettina Ferrero-Waldner to take on this difficult mission in Pakistan shortly before the foreseeable end of President General Musharraf's rule. It was unclear whether “the King's Party”, the PML-Q, would win the elections, there were widespread suspicions of allegedly large-scale fraud and then Benazir Bhutto was shot on December 27, 2007 - two hours before I would have met her should. The forgeries did not exist, but there was a change of government and I recommended the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Bhutto's party, to make their contribution so that such suspicions would become irrelevant in the future.

I also insisted that the EU delegation in Islamabad and our embassies of the member states regard our recommendations as their “homework” and that follow-up programs be drawn up for cooperation with the electoral commission, government and parliament.

Some of the recommendations at that time were implemented by 2013: the international agreements on civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights were ratified. The many reservations put in, which largely undermined the substance, were systematically analyzed in cooperation with the responsible ministries within the framework of programs in which, among others, Democracy Reporting International from Berlin participated, except for the requirement that the President of Pakistan must be a Muslim , withdrawn.

As a result of our recommendations, the nomination of the members of the electoral commission was moved from the sphere of the president to the parliament, where since then nominations have been largely consensus in a non-partisan body.

The requirement for a degree to run for parliament has been abolished. As recommended, the fee for acquiring a computerized national identity card (CNIC), which in turn is a prerequisite for entry in the electoral register, has been abolished for poor families.

Many of the recommendations made by the EU observer mission after the 2013 election have now been incorporated into a harmonized electoral law that was passed with broad consensus in 2017. What was achieved in particular was the legal strengthening and financial independence of the ECP Electoral Commission and the improvement of the electoral register to 106 million entries with an increased proportion of registered women. A census made it possible to adapt many constituencies to the changing constituency sizes, even if this was not done satisfactorily across the board.

Mission 2018: delays in processes

After the invitation from the Pakistani electoral commission to send an EU election observation mission with the support of the then incumbent Pakistani government, the fact-finding mission took place in March. The European External Action Service (EEAS) tried, for reasons of principle, to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Pakistani side, which should agree on the modalities of our mission. Since we hadn't succeeded in doing this in 2002, 2008 or 2013, I advised early on not to do so and, as before, to limit ourselves to an exchange of verbal notes, the content of which was to re-establish what was last possible in 2013. As a result, it came to this, but only with the executive government, which took over the government functions after the formal end of the parliamentary sessions on June 1st.

The subsequent processes were delayed to an extent that we had never experienced before. The core team was originally supposed to arrive in the first week of June, the week before the team for setting up the technical infrastructure. Together with the core team, our liaison officers should have come to check the security of the planned locations for our long-term observers.

Contacting the various Pakistani security agencies would have been urgently necessary at this point with the aim of having the long-term observers on site at least one month before the election on July 25th. It is pointless to blame one place or another. The fact is that our methodology, which provides for a longer presence on site before and after the elections, could not be fully implemented. Three security experts have been denied visas because they are not EU citizens. The core team didn't arrive until June 24th and will be able to stay until September 9th. The 60 long-term observers received their visas so briefly and limited to August 8th that they only arrived between July 3rd and 6th, received their accreditations for the locations on July 13th and could only be on site from July 17th , the last on the Sunday before the Wednesday elections. They returned to Islamabad on August 5th and left the country on August 7th - at least a week earlier than we wanted.

It was possible to analyze the media landscape from July 24th, including the legal situation, the domestic political atmosphere and the preparations on the part of the electoral commission. We were on site too late to observe the list of candidates in the constituencies and also to accompany the proceedings with regard to possible initial rejections or complaint proceedings against it.

Tense domestic political situation

Every election observation takes place in a specific domestic political environment. For the 2018 election it was positive that the parties represented in parliament managed to pass an electoral law in the second half of 2017 in good time before the election, which combined seven pre-existing and partly inconsistent laws into one, which made functionality the electoral commission significantly improved.

At the same time, however, a debate about the alleged change in the oath of office, which did not unequivocally reflect the finality of the Prophet, caused the Minister of Justice to resign. In this context, the Ahmadi community, who are not recognized by official Muslim representatives as Muslims, was again banned from the common electoral roll of all citizens with an amendment to the electoral law.

In 2008, 2013 and in this year's preliminary report, I described this practice as incompatible with the laws of Pakistan or with its international obligations: for us as observers, in connection with the eligibility to vote, what matters is not who is Muslim and who is not, but who A citizen is and who is not. The Ahmadis are undoubtedly Pakistani citizens. And even if one were to follow the official view that they are not Muslims, the logical consequence would have to be to treat them like other “non-Muslim” citizens in Pakistan, ie they are treated like Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and others to be listed on the joint electoral roll and to be provided with reserved seats. The practice of segregation, which was reintroduced by an amendment to the Electoral Act of November 23, 2017, is regrettable and worthy of criticism.

Overall, the domestic political climate in the run-up to the elections in 2017 was dominated by the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the debate about the influence of the “military establishment” on these processes (on the political and economic development of Pakistan and the role of the military, see also the BTI - Country Report Pakistan). At the time of the preparations for our observation mission, the political climate was dominated by the debates and fears of the previous ruling party PML-N and also of the largest opposition party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), that the "establishment" was promoting the candidate Imran Khan (PTI) Pressure on candidates from PML-N and PPP not to stand or to change sides or at least stand as independents.

In addition, various print and audiovisual media, the most famous among them GEO-TV and the Dawn newspaper, founded by the state founder Ali Jinnah, complained about massive impediments to their publication options. Many individual journalists also complained about "calls" which in any case did not come from the actually responsible media regulator PEMRA. In addition, the anti-corruption authority was accused of primarily taking action against functionaries and mandate holders of the PML-N party.

How these circumstances would affect voting behavior, whether it would be relevant outside the “Islamabad Bubble” in the constituencies, or whether there was a change in mood anyway, these were interesting considerations that were also the subject of our observation.

Political culture and influence on candidates and the media

The political system of Pakistan is traditionally characterized by quasi-feudal structures in which large families like the Bhuttos or Sharifs have built up and expanded influence over decades. At the same time, the constituency structures not only in many rural areas are shaped in such a way that the constituencies are inherited within the families, from father to son or brother and nephew, and in exceptional cases also to a female family member. It is not uncommon for people to change parties, including keeping their candidacy in the constituency. In these elections, the proportion of “renegades” appeared to be particularly high, mostly from PML-N, occasionally from PPP, towards Imran Khan's PTI, “reorienting” or at least starting as “independents”. 54% of the PML-N and 12% of the PPP candidates elected in 2013 left these parties, ran as independents, or stopped at all. Discussions gave the clear impression that the "establishment" had an influence on different levels, even if this is officially vehemently denied.

The media, publishers, broadcasters and individual journalists also found themselves “under pressure of expectation” not to report, or not to report positively, about the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or not to criticize the Supreme Court. Widespread self-censorship was the result. For example, the daily newspaper Dawn, founded by state founder Ali Jinnah, was stopped in large parts of the country in May 2018 after an interview with Nawaz Sharif was published. In March 2018, GEO-TV had already been banned from cable and satellite networks in most parts of the country. Before Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan, several large publishers received advice that they should not report live on July 13, 2018. To be on the safe side, parallel to Sharif's return to Lahore, the entire cellular network was switched off for several hours without any recognizable legal basis, so that the followers could not broadcast the event live on social media.

Numerous journalists, publishers of daily newspapers and TV channels complained about intimidation and limited coverage during the course of the election campaign.Photo credit: Michael Gahler / private

A very clear example of self-censorship emerged from a conversation with a journalist from a broadcaster we know. He said: “My boss cannot afford to argue against the establishment. So most of the time we reported positively about Imran Khan and broadcast his performances live. And when he was asked a critical question from the audience, we didn't wait for the answer, we just faded out and sent a can with a PML-N scandal. "

The Dawn newspaper did not go along with such false compromises. Your editorial team argues against the pressure and tries to defend the standard achieved. The newspaper referred to its tradition of, at worst, appearing with a blank page rather than violating its beliefs.

Preliminary balance sheet

The legal framework for holding elections in accordance with international standards is in place. This is ensured by the constitution, electoral law and implementation rules of 2017, the rules of conduct for all parties involved, as well as notifications from the electoral commission and relevant parts of the criminal law and the code of criminal procedure.

There are deficits in the area of ​​freedom of expression in terms of the necessity and proportionality of restrictions, as well as in the conditions for running a candidacy, which prescribe vague moral and ethical criteria.

The 2017 electoral law gave the electoral commission itself better opportunities to implement the law. The law contains transparency provisions for various procedural phases, as well as measures to improve the participation of women. Overall, the electoral list has grown by 23% since 2013 to 105,955,407 voters, a slight increase in percentage for women, who nevertheless represent only 44% of the registered electorate. The campaigns for female voter registration carried out jointly by the election commission, the national data processing authority NADRA, UNDP and civil society organizations in 79 districts led to a 66% increase in registered female voters in the federally administered tribal areas (FATA).

From our point of view, it is noteworthy that this new legal framework has taken up 37 of our 50 recommendations from 2013 to varying degrees. The preliminary report of the EU election observation mission states that these positive changes have been overshadowed by the restrictions on freedom of the press and unequal conditions of competition during the election campaign.

The forthcoming final report will contain a more detailed analysis of the entire electoral process as well as reform recommendations from the EU election observers.