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April 08, 2013

EU Plays Down Absence of Pakistan Election Monitors in High-Risk Areas

by Sharon Behn

The European Union is deploying monitors to observe the electoral process in Pakistan, for the country's May elections.  But none of those monitors will travel to the country's high-risk regions.
 
Michael Gahler, chief of the European Union's Election Observation Mission to Pakistan, admits that none of the 110 monitors they will have working in Pakistan during the May 11 national elections will be present in areas where there is a security threat.
 
But Gahler played down the impact the EU absence from those areas would have on the evaluation of the country's electoral process, saying local monitors would be present.
 
"The fact that many local observers will also be on the ground, I think, gives the confidence for voters in these areas that they can freely cast their vote," he said.  "That is my conviction."

Human-rights activist Tahira Abdullah says the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and other independent national observers such as the Free and Fair Election Network would be present in high-risk areas.
 
But she says the absence of the EU observation mission in those areas will be strongly felt.
 
"The European Union will have a grave hole in its own report," she said. "I would like to point out here that the areas they are not going to are the very same areas where women are being barred from voting"
 
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, 10 to 15 million of the 85 million voters live in Pakistan's so-called sensitive areas, such as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the northwest border with Afghanistan, in the restive southern province of Baluchistan and in certain areas of the violent city of Karachi.
 
The country director for U.N. Women in Pakistan, Lena Lindberg, told VOA in some of the higher-risk areas extremists have threatened any woman who dares to cast a vote.  But she says for the first time, the Election Commission will segregate ballots by gender.

"And therefore, we will now be able to see exactly how many women voted, not only for the whole country, and the overall turnout, but also for every polling station," she said. "So from now on it will be possible in Pakistan to see if there are polling stations where there were nearly no women voters at all, maybe even zero women voters."

That will allow Pakistan to focus in on those areas in future elections.
 
In a recent interview with VOA, Election Commission of Pakistan Additional Secretary Afzal Khan said, given the security situation, it was better to have fewer observers in harm's way.  But, he also said it is crucial that voters accept the election results as free and fair.
 
"... as far as observation is concerned, this election commission, we need certification of the voters, if they are satisfied we are satisfied, if they are happy we are happy, we need the trust and certification of clean elections by the political parties, losers and the winners," he said.

According to Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, in addition to the European Union, the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute is organizing an international team of 57 short and long-term observers.  Several governments, including the United States, Japan and Turkey, are also expected to send in observers.