Islamabad - Women’s Action Forum (WAF) condemns the suicide attack on Awami National Party (ANP)’s corner meeting in Peshawar killing 20 persons including the party’s senior leader and candidate, Barrister Haroon Bilour. WAF demands urgent action to allow all political parties and electoral contestants equal opportunities to campaign without fear. WAF is deeply concerned at the growing public fears of an “engineered” electoral process, adversely targeting one political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Selective accountability, enforced change of loyalties, and harassment of the party’s electoral contestants are some of the measures reinforcing public scepticism.

WAF fears that doubts on the legitimacy of the 2018 elections will have serious repercussions on Pakistan’s efforts to transition to a well-functioning democracy. It demands that the ECP asserts its authority to fulfil its fundamental responsibility of providing a level-playing field and ensure free and fair elections. WAF also demands that ECP dispels the notion of the prevalence of pre-poll rigging environment through its non-partisan actions and enforcement of the rule of law across-the-board.

WAF is alarmed at the facilitated entry of groups espousing narratives of violent extremism in the electoral contest. WAF demands investigation into ECP’s scrutiny process that failed to reject nomination papers of candidates belonging to political parties that have consistently in the past misused religion to peddle dangerously polarizing politics and continue to do so within their current political rhetoric and action. This enquiry should also examine the anxiety and confusion generated by ROs applying different interpretations of the subjective Articles 62/63 of the Constitution during the scrutiny process of candidates.

WAF is concerned that curbs and pressures on the media aim to manipulate public opinion by unfairly targeting some, and, unduly giving advantage to others. WAF condemns the forced disruption in distributing DAWN newspaper, similar to earlier attempts to block the transmission of Geo TV. Such tactics deny citizens their basic right to know and creates an atmosphere to stifle critical debate and block public scrutiny of powerful institutions and officeholders.

WAF calls on the ECP to ensure that the 350,000 security personnel deployed at polling stations are solely concerned with maintaining peace.

Their presence should in no way intimidate or influence voters, including women voters. WAF expresses its alarm at reports about required presence or involvement of security personnel in the vote counting process and them being given magisterial powers. WAF condemns any outsourcing of responsibilities by ECP to other state institutions. The key responsibility of holding free and fair elections must be fulfilled by the ECP and its polling staff who have also benefited from extensive trainings recently.

WAF calls on voters to only elect those who unequivocally renounce all forms of violence and commit to promoting harmony among all citizens irrespective of gender, ethnicity, religious and other differences enabling them to live in dignity and with equal opportunities, according to the norms of democracy and supported by fair application of the rule of law.