By Mariana Baabar
ISLAMABAD: The European Union (EU) has forewarned the Nawaz Sharif government that it should immediately concentrate on and take action to matters related to electoral reforms otherwise the next general elections could be greatly undermined. These include adequate legal reform, stronger ECP performance and transparency, improved opportunities for legal remedy, and increased participation of women and minorities.
After extensive meetings in Islamabad the the Mission realised that there are a number of shortcomings in the local elections including inadequate legal frameworks, reduced transparency, lack of confidence in the work of returning officers, and weak mechanisms for legal remedy.
“Such problems show the urgent need for election reform to avoid uncertainty, conflict or instability in the next general elections,” cautions the EU. The suggestions came from Michael Gahler, who heads The Electoral Follow-up Mission of the EU and is presently visiting Pakistan. He is also Member of the European Parliament, who also led the 2008 and 2013 EU EOMs to Pakistan.
According to a statement from the European Union Delegation to Pakistan the findings of the Mission will also be considered when deciding future EU support and activities in Pakistan, including potential support to the electoral reform process and deployment of an Election Observation Mission (EOM) for the next general elections.
Michael Gahler emphasised “Now is the time for reform decisions and actions. Further delays to reform risk problems recurring and undermining the next general elections. These problems can be avoided if parties and institutions show decisive leadership at this crucial time.”
The Mission is also a reminder that it is obligatory on the Nawaz Sharif government to seriously go ahead with electoral reform process because the EU’s GSP+ agreement with Pakistan for preferential trade arrangements requires implementation of international conventions, which include inter alia obligations regarding electoral processes.
“The EU therefore trusts that Pakistani authorities will fulfill their commitments to improving elections and political participation”, added the statement.
“For election reform to be effective, time is needed for implementation that begins well before the next election is called. Inclusive and transparent reform processes help build confidence in elections and their results. Well run elections are in everyone’s interest and can only help Pakistan’s prosperity”, said Michael Gahler.
The Mission met with the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, the Chief Election Commissioner, the Chair of the Senate, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Chair of NADRA, political party leaders and civil society representatives.
After these meetings the Mission says it nevertheless welcomes the establishment and the ongoing work of a parliamentary committee dedicated to reforming election legislation.
It also appreciates the increasing initiatives made by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), including with regards to training, monitoring and promoting women’s participation. The Mission is also encouraged to see that competitive local elections have been held.
The European Union (EU) has deployed an Electoral Follow-up Mission to Pakistan to assess the current electoral reform process and the extent to which previous EU election-related recommendations have been addressed.