Fears mount in Pakistan over military’s election powers

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ISLAMABAD, July 23, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Fears have mounted over wide-ranging
powers granted to military units overseeing Pakistan’s polling stations when
the country votes Wednesday, with opposition parties and analysts warning the
move could erode trust in the tense contest.

The Pakistan military will station over 370,000 troops nationwide to
ensure the vote goes smoothly, the largest such deployment in the country’s
history on an election day.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) later said military officers
would also be given magisterial powers, effectively making them judge and
jury to punish individuals for illegal acts committed inside polling
stations.

“I don’t know why they have given these powers, because that will
unnecessarily create doubts in the minds of people,” retired general and
security analyst Talat Masood told AFP.

“I don’t think these powers have ever been granted.”

Election observers also questioned the move, and said there was rising
anxiety over the large military presence at the polls.

“A lot of our interlocutors, and I would dare to say most of them, they
raise serious concerns regarding the role of the military,” said Dimitra
Ioannou, deputy chief observer of the European Union Election Observation
Mission.

Last week, Sherry Rehman — opposition leader in the Senate, the
parliament’s upper house — said the move could lead to potential conflicts
and confusion. Raza Rabbani, another high-profile senator, demanded a
clarification from the ECP.

The ECP said Sunday the presence of troops at polling stations is meant to
ensure a “free and fair election”.

The military — which has ruled the country for roughly half its 70 year
history — remains Pakistan’s most powerful institution and has a long
history of meddling in politics and judicial affairs — a charge it denies.

“It would be difficult to call the elections free and fair,” Ibn Abdur
Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan told AFP Monday, following
a press conference on media censorship during the campaign season.

The controversy comes as increasing militant attacks on campaign events in
the last month have raised fears that insurgents may target voters.

Three candidates have been killed in attacks at political events this
month, including a member of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in a suicide attack on Sunday.

And on Monday, authorities announced an increased death toll — 153 — for
an earlier attack on a rally in the town of Mastung in southwestern
Balochistan province, making it the second-deadliest terror attack in
Pakistan’s history.

The increasingly bitter contest is expected to be a tight race between
jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-
Nawaz party and Khan’s PTI.

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