Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has urged the political parties who contested Sunday’s by-elections to step back from the ‘rough campaigning’ to ensure that politics returned to the real issues of the people. It also called for urgent efforts for meaningful election reform.
In a statement issued on Monday, the Commission said: “HRCP welcomes the fact that the by-elections on Sunday were generally peaceful despite some apprehension to the contrary. With regard to any electoral contest, HRCP welcomes any result so long as it promotes the democratic process, but we must point out that the holding of the entire exercise at gunpoint and under military supervision is not in accordance with the democratic principle.
“Several other elements in the by-election offered little to cheer for democracy. First of all, the election was very, very expensive, even after making allowances that the by-election in NA-122 was a matter of prestige for both the PTI and the PML-N. Many people would hesitate to brand as democratic an election where so much money was spent. It reinforced the trend that only the rich could afford to contest.
“In the by-election in Lahore in particular, both parties indulged in rough campaigning and demonstrated an utter lack of tolerance for the opponent, concentrating on ridicule, slander and personal attacks.
“People have far important issues than clashes of inflated egos and ear-splitting indulgence in self-righteousness. Elections are supposed to be occasions to advance people’s understanding of democracy and its relevance to their issues. Yet little attention was paid to governance and other issues of significance.
“There would be a winner and a runner up in any election, but making the polls such an absolute zero-sum game would serve neither. The victory in Sunday’s by-elections can be called a Pyrrhic one. Due credit must be given to the PTI for making this a very close contest.
“Election results are normally a wake-up call for every responsive organisation to review its performance. There are many lessons in Sunday’s by-elections that must be learned, not just by the opposition, but also the government. We hope that the election result would not go to the victor’s head, who should remember that a substantial number of people voted against it and many more chose to not vote at all.
“The onus is now on all political politics to ensure that politics returns to issues and ways are found to persuade people that the democratic dispensation holds answers to all the challenges they face.
“In view of what was observed during the by-elections, HRCP implores all political parties to urgently collaborate to introduce election reform and strengthen civilian mechanisms and institutions for managing the elections. HRCP must warn the political forces that delaying the move towards reform any further would only result in substantial changes and consensus becoming more difficult to achieve.”