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For a Democratic Election

Statement by Citizens Group on Electoral Process

Sunday 6 January 2008, by Citizens Group on Electoral Process

The Citizens Group on Electoral Process held its 16th Meeting at Lahore on January 4, 2008. Names of participants are attached.

The Group began its deliberations by offering fateha for the departed soul of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

The Group held extensive deliberations on all aspects of the situation arising from the demise of the former Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The Group formulated the following observations and recommendations for considerations and implementation by the Election Commission of Pakistan, the Government, Political Parties, Media and Civil Society:

1. The dastardly assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a tragic loss and an enormous blow to the democratic process.

2. Ultimate responsibility rests with the State and the Caretaker Government that have an obligation to secure the life of every citizen. In this instance, there was a special, additional duty of the Government to ensure optimal safety for a leader of great eminence who had already been unsuccessfully targeted on October 18, 2007.

3. Failing to conduct an autopsy on the slain leader as per the categorical requirements of the law and hastily hosing down the crime scene, the Caretaker Government has provided at least 3 different versions of the causes of the death of Benazir Bhutto. Such premature, inconsistent claims raise well-founded concerns about the actual motivations behind the creation of such confusion.

4. The investigation into all aspects of the assassination should be conducted by an authentically independent Commission of Inquiry headed by a person whose integrity and ability are accepted by the heads of all major political parties.

5. The virtually unprecedented breakdown of law and order across the country and especially in Sindh from the evening of December 27, 2007 to December 31, 2007 is an abysmal, shameful failure of the Federal and Provincial Governments and the law enforcing agencies to anticipate and prevent the killing of innocent citizens and the massive destruction of public and private property.

6. There are substantive grounds for the view that, however large scale and spontaneous the violence was, in which criminal elements were brazenly allowed to kill, loot and burn, it appears that the invisibility of law enforcement agencies for the first 100 hours and then belated deployment was a deliberate ploy to create a situation that could justify the postponement of polls beyond January 8, 2008.

7. The Group is of the firm view that the postponement of elections to February 18 is beyond the prescribed Constitutional deadline. It violates the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Article 254 can not be invoked to postpone the elections beyond the prescribed limit.

8. The consensus in the Group was that the postponement of the election was motivated by partisan considerations which amount to pre-rigging the electoral process despite serious damage to property and facilities. There was no credible logistical reason to postpone the entire election. The postponement manifests the partisan disposition of the Election Commission and the Federal Government.

9. The Group strongly stands against any further postponement of polling for one reason or another.

10. The assassination of a major national leader has led to suspicions and speculations that have the potential to adversely impact on inter-provincial harmony. The Group therefore considers this aspect to be of utmost importance. We believe that considering all the dimensions and possible fall-out, the situation needs to be handled with extraordinary care and sensitivity so that the heat of the election does not worsen conditions and perceptions.

11. The Group was deeply disappointed at the failure of the Election Commission to enforce the Code of Conduct which is being repeatedly violated by some political parties, the administration and the local government officials.

12. The Group reiterated that free, fair and transparent elections are not possible in the absence of a truly independent judiciary.

13. A new Chief Election Commissioner, with the consensus of political parties, should be appointed immediately and the Election Commission should be reconstituted to represent all provinces as per the requirements of the Constitution because even as of January 4, 2008, the existing EC does not fulfill the requirements of the Constitution.

14. The Election Commission needs to take urgent and serious notice of the newspaper advertisements of a political party playing up regional-ethnic sentiments for the sake of votes. This effort, if not checked immediately, can sharpen regional polarization and pose a serious threat to internal harmony and stability.

15. The Election Commission should exercise vigilance and take strict action against any political party, or any other elements that provoke disharmony between the people of the four provinces.

16. The Group also appeals to the media to use its professional judgments for discouraging the publication of advertisements and statements that specifically play up regional and ethnic biases.

17. The media should, therefore, exercise caution and show special responsibility to desist from printing, broadcasting or transmitting any advertisements which may lead to provoking regional and ethnic biases.

18. Political Parties should give national harmony primacy over point-scoring and refrain from statements and actions which may, in any way, hurt the feelings of the people of other provinces.

19. Recent developments underline the inescapable duty of the office of the Presidency to play a strictly non-partisan role. However, because the present President is an avowed partisan and his election on October 6, 2007 is devoid of legal and moral authority, it would be better in the national interest that he should step down.

Members of Citizens Group on Electoral Process who participated in the Meeting:

1. Justice (Retd.) Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, Former Chief Justice of Pakistan: Chairman CGEP
2. Mr. Arif Nizami, Editor The Nation
3. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Asad Durrani, Former DG ISI/MI
4. Mr. Ghazi Salahuddin, The Jang Group
5. Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi; Defence and Political Analyst
6. Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gilani, Chairman, Gallup Pakistan Ltd.
7. Mr. Javed Jabbar, Former Senator & Minister
8. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Moinuddin Haider; Former Governor Sindh
9. Mr. Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami, Editor-in-Chief, Daily Pakistan
10. Justice (Retd.) Nasira Iqbal, Former Judge Lahore High Court
11. Mr. Omar Khan Afridi, Former Chief Secretary NWFP
12. Dr. Parvez Hassan, Renowned Lawyer
13. Mr. Shafqat Mahmood, Former Senator & Minister
14. Mr. Tasneem Noorani, Former Federal Secretary
15. Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob; Executive Director, PILDAT
16. Ms. Aasiya Riaz; Joint Director, PILDAT

Justice (Retd.) Khalil ur Rehman, Former Judge, Supreme Court of Pakistan
Mr. Shamshad Ahmad, Former Foreign Secretary

* Circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire