Pakistan human rights commission raises concerns over 'pre-poll rigging' ahead of upcoming elections

Pakistan’s independent human rights commission said Monday there is little chance of free and fair parliamentary elections in the country next month because of “pre-poll rigging.” It also expressed concern about authorities rejecting the candidacies of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and most other members of his party.

At a news conference in Islamabad, the co-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Munizae Jahangir, said other political parties have been subjected to similar tactics to varying degrees.

“At this point, there is little evidence to show that the upcoming elections will be free, fair or credible,” Jahangir said.

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She said Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, was “being dismembered in a systematic manner” and that the rejection of nomination papers for most of its candidates raised questions about the country’s Election Commission.

Munizae Jahangir speaks

Munizae Jahangir, the co-chairperson at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, speaks during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Jan. 1, 2024. Pakistan’s rights body said Monday there is little chance of free and fair parliamentary elections next month because of “pre-poll rigging.” (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

People should be allowed to vote for their candidate of choice on February 8, she added, and there are “apprehensions that the electoral process is being engineered.”

Jahangir condemned the state’s “clampdown” on dissent, saying it has further constricted civic discourse at a time when Pakistanis should be allowed to express their views freely given the upcoming election.

Farhatullah Babar, a veteran human rights leader, said the Election Commission’s decisions keeping Khan and other PTI members off the ballot amounted to “apparent pre-poll rigging.”

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He said Pakistan’s caretaker government has a duty to ensure free and fair elections and the Election Commission’s is responsible for providing all political parties equal opportunities.

Some of the country’s main parties would not accept the outcome of a rigged election, and a disputed vote would create further political instability, Babar warned.

Khan is in currently in prison and serving a three-year sentence for corruption. He also faces a stack of other charges, making it difficult for him to run for office. Despite knowing his nomination papers could be rejected, Khan through his legal team sought to run for a seat in the National Assembly.

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According to election officials, Khan was barred from running because of his conviction.

His disqualification was a fresh blow for the 71-year-old former cricketer, who is the country’s most popular opposition figure. He was ousted from office in April 2022 following a no-confidence vote in Parliament by his political opponents.

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