Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pakistan: MEP observers report "a lot of enthusiastic voters and healthy rivalry"

Pakistan finally held parliamentary elections on Monday and a team of MEPs were there to observe the poll. Although overshadowed by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on 27 December and some tensions, the observers reported "a lot of enthusiastic voters and healthy rivalry" among parties.

The team was part of a wider EU election observation mission headed by German Christian Democrat MEP Michael Gahler, whose remit included monitoring the media as well as local and national authorities.

The election pits the Pakistani People's Party (now run by Benazir Bhutto’s widower) against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) (run by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif) and the Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid-e-Azam, (PML-Q) - the party supporting President Pervez Musharraf.

On the ground - looking for irregularities

The MEPs were there as part of the 131-member EU election observation mission in the country since December. The Members divided themselves into five teams, three around Islamabad and two around Lahore. They randomly select polling stations to visit, where they record whether procedures are being complied with; for example: are ballot boxes sealed, are people voting in private, does everyone vote only once?

They are also on the lookout for any intimidation of voters and whether the staff manning the polling stations are aware of their duties. In addition, each team is present for the opening and closing of a polling station and the counting of votes.
In addition, the observers had meetings with President Musharraf and the leaders of the main political parties.

"World is holding its breath"

Speaking after the polls British Labour MEP Robert Evans, who headed the Parliament's seven-person mission, said the "world is holding its breath" for the result. He said "my experiences today may not be typical of the whole country, but I have witnessed election day from start to finish and seen a lot of enthusiastic voters and healthy rivalry among the political parties."

He spoke of the spectre of violence that has stalked the elections: "in one incident, this spilled over as tensions ran high, but generally the picture has been of a serious attempt to make these elections as democratic as possible".

Who is in the delegation?

As well as the Chairman Robert Evans the delegation from Parliament consisted of: Belgian Ivo Belet (EPP-ED), Italian Lilli Gruber (PES), German Jo Leinen (PES), Estonian Marianne Mikko (PES), Bulgarian Nickolay Mladenov (EPP-ED) and Britain's Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne (ALDE).

Source: European Parliament News