Amid the counting of votes in Pakistan, US Congress lawmakers have condemned the use of political violence, cell phone service shutdowns and restrictions on freedom of expression in the country, Business Standard reported
US Congresswoman Dina Titus has condemned the use of political violence and the restriction on freedom of expression in Pakistan. She called free and fair elections the cornerstone of a functioning democracy.
In a post on X, Dina Titus stated, “Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of a functioning democracy. I condemn the use of political violence and the restriction on freedoms of expression in Pakistan. I am closely monitoring the situation on the ground and urge officials to adhere to the rule of law.”
Polling for general elections in Pakistan concluded amid allegations of rigging and the shutdown of cellular and internet services, Pakistan-based Dawn reported. The voting process began at 8 am and continued till 5 pm.
The Election Commission of Pakistan earlier said that exceptions would only be made for people already inside the polling station. However, the polling is not being considered free and fair, as many allegations were levelled regarding the rigging and people being barred from voting.
US Congressman Brad Sherman has said that press organisations in Pakistan should be free to report vote tabulations and stressed that there should not be delay in announcing the election results.
“Press organizations in #Pakistan should be free to report vote tabulations and there should be no unwarranted delay in announcing results,” Brad Sherman posted on X.
US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib said democracy in Pakistan is at serious risk. She stated that people in Pakistan should be able to elect their leaders without interference and tampering with the process.
In a post on X, Tlaib stated, “We must stand with the Pakistani people as their democracy is at serious risk. They should be able to elect their leaders without interference and tampering with the process, and the U.S. must ensure our tax dollars don’t go to anyone undermining that.”
US Congressman Greg Casar said that Pakistanis have the right to elect their leaders without cell phone service shutdowns and other authoritian practices aimed to undermine polls results.
“Pakistanis have the right to elect their leaders without cell phone service shutdowns & other authoritarian practices aimed at undermining election results. The U.S. must stand with the Pakistani people & make clear we will not support anyone working to undermine democracy,” Greg Casar posted on X.
Earlier, the US Department of State condemned the election-related violence and internet shutterdowns on the voting day in Pakistan, saying that they were concerned about the curbs on the exercise of freedom of expression in the country.
“Pakistanis went to the polls today to vote. Pakistan’s future leadership is for the Pakistani people to decide and our interests continued to be in the democratic process. We strongly condemn all instances of election-related violence. Election-related violence, we believe, affected a broad range of political parties across Pakistan,” the principal deputy spokesperson of the US State Department, Vedant Patel, said during a media briefing on Thursday.
“It impacted polling stations, election officers as well as the Election commission. We are concerned about the restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression. We are tracking reports of restrictions on Internet and cell phone access across Pakistan on polling day,” he added.
The statement of US lawmakers comes after the credibility of Pakistan’s most expensive general elections was called into question with the suspension of cellular networks, restricting the movements of voters, terrorist attacks, and curbing media coverage, Pakistan-based The News International reported.
According to the report, the caretaker government had assured Pakistanis that network connectivity would not be affected during the election day. However, just before the beginning of voting on Thursday, mobile internet services were shut down ‘temporarily’.
Eight minutes ahead of the beginning of the voting process, Pakistan’s Caretaker Ministry of Interior said the cellular services across Pakistan would remain suspended as part of the ‘security measures’, noting that they were ‘inevitable’.
The daily reported that PKR 42 billion was spent to conduct general elections, making them the most expensive in the country’s history. The amount was 26 per cent more than what was spent in the 2018 elections, the report stated, adding that the increase was due to security and other arrangements by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). With more than 128 million people registered as voters, it was the biggest election in Pakistan’s history. This sudden decision to suspend mobile internet services caused inconvenience to all the stakeholders in the elections–voters, political actors, polling agents, observers, and reporters, according to the report.
The media coverage of the polls, too, was blocked, with reporters complaining of several roadblocks in the collection of information and dissemination of results post-balloting, The News International reported.
Quoting a Karachi-based reporter, the daily stated that journalists faced major issues in gathering information. “We got some videos later on, but had the [connectivity] been there, it would have been easier,” the reporter was quoted as saying by the daily.
“It affected news organisations, journalists, and election observers’ abilities to cover the event,” he added.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has alleged rigging underway in Lahore’s NA 126 constituency. In a post on X, PTI stated, “NA 126 Returning Officer’s Office Video Rangers and army are stationed outside, inside presiding officer form 45 is being thrown and voluntary form 45 is being made and the voluntary record is being uploaded on the portal. Form 46 detailing the remaining ballot papers has also been torn up At present this is being done in most circles across the country.