Violence Mars Pakistan’s General Elections | Freedom House

Violence Mars Pakistan’s General Elections

Washington

Freedom House denounces the violence that threatens to disrupt Pakistan’s general elections on May 11th and urges all parties to halt attacks against political candidates and allow citizens to go to the polls without fear. The National Assembly and Provincial Assembly elections represent the first time a civilian government will transfer power to another civilian government in Pakistan.

The political climate leading up to elections has been extraordinarily hostile, with secular party members and religious minorities bearing the brunt of the violence. More than 110 people have been killed and roughly 500 injured over the last several months in attacks by religious militants that have targeted political candidates and their supporters. Militant groups, including the Pakistan Taliban, have publicly expressed their intent to disrupt elections, and this violence has impeded candidates’ efforts to campaign.  The secular Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and its main partners, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party, have been targeted in particular, and militant groups have warned voters to boycott the elections or risk being killed.

“It is exceptionally alarming that as Pakistanis prepare to go to the polls, they do so under the threat of death,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “Democracy cannot occur when citizens are voting in a climate of fear and political candidates must take their life into their own hands in order to compete. This is the unfortunate reality in Pakistan at the moment.”

Earlier this week, Ali Haider Gilani, son of former Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and vice-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen while campaigning for Saturday’s election in Multan. His whereabouts are still unknown.

“The high rate of targeted killings and kidnappings that persist in Pakistan is deplorable,” said Karin Karlekar, Freedom House project director for Freedom of the Press.  “Instead of sitting idly by while candidates, supporters and other citizens are targeted, the Pakistani government must instead actively combat this violence.”

Pakistan is not an electoral democracy, and while a civilian government was elected in 2008, the military still exercises de facto control over many government functions. The political environment is also colored by pervasive corruption, partisan clashes, and the disproportionate influence of religious militant groups. The environment has become increasingly hostile for journalists, human rights workers and humanitarian activists who face rising violence and threats from both state and non-state actors, including the military, intelligence services, and militant groups.

Pakistan is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2013, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2013 and Freedom on the Net 2012.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Due to planned IT work that will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET today and will run through the weekend, emails to Freedom House will not be accessible until Monday, May 13. If you are a journalist wishing for further Freedom House comment, please call Mary McGuire at 202-683-0909.

To learn more about Pakistan, visit:

Freedom in the World 2012: Pakistan

Freedom of the Press 2012: Pakistan

Freedom on the Net 2012: Pakistan

Blog: Freedom at Issue

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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