FO Defends Pakistan’s Electoral Process Amid UN Concerns Over Violence

The Foreign Office (FO) on Wednesday said that Pakistan was fully committed to fostering an inclusive and democratic process, upholding the rule of law, and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed in its laws and Constitution.

FO spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch made these remarks in response to a statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who expressed concern over violent incidents ahead of the general elections scheduled for February 8.

The UN spokesperson Liz Throssell had said on Tuesday that the UN deplored all acts of violence against political parties and candidates, and urged the authorities to ensure a fully free and fair vote and to recommit to the democratic process and an environment that promotes and protects the full range of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.

Throssell had also highlighted that “no less than 24” incidents had occurred where armed groups had targeted political parties, and called on the authorities to take measures to prevent further attacks and ensure accountability for those responsible.

Baloch, in her statement, said that Pakistan had finalised the security plans to hold the February 8 polls as per its electoral laws. She said that Pakistan’s judicial system provided for fair trial and due process, and that domestic legal remedies were available in case of any complaints in the electoral process.

She also said that Pakistan valued its engagement with the UN and its human rights mechanisms, and looked forward to continuing its constructive dialogue and cooperation with them.

Baloch’s statement came amid a spike in terror attacks and violent clashes targetting candidates and electioneering activities of several political parties across the country.

The previous general election campaigns had witnessed spasms of violence, with scores of candidates and voters targeted by bombings and gun attacks and it seemed that the 2024 polls were likely to be no different as the country had witnessed a significant surge in targeting of electioneering activities and candidates.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which is responsible for conducting the elections, had postponed the polls on two constituencies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after an independent candidate was gunned down in Bajaur district last month.

The ECP had also issued a code of conduct for the security officials deployed for the elections, and instructed them to ensure the safety of the voters, candidates, polling staff, and election material.

The ECP had also announced a detailed schedule for the elections, which will see over 128 million registered voters electing 336 members of the National Assembly and 728 members of the four provincial assemblies.

The two major parties contesting the elections are the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by former Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), founded by Imran Khan, which was the largest party in the previous elections, was forced to field its candidates as Independents after a controversial Supreme Court ruling stripped them of their electoral symbol in the run-up to the elections.

The elections are also being closely watched by the international community, as they will determine the future course of Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours, especially India and Afghanistan, as well as its allies, such as China, the US, and Saudi Arabia.

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