Press Release, February 25
Lahore: While welcoming the people’s verdict of February 18, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has demanded immediate convening of the newly elected National and Provincial Assemblies and transfer of power to majority parties / coalitions so that the peoples’ wishes for a change in the Presidency and restoration of judges could be expeditiously addressed. In a statement issued here today, HRCP said:
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) welcomes the people’s verdict of February 18 and felicitates them on foiling the designs of the various elements that wanted to interfere with the electoral process through threats of violence, illicit influence, blackmail and bribery. This does not affect HRCP’s censure of large-scale manipulation of the electoral process before the polling day and the Election Commission’s failure to rise to the minimum acceptable standards of efficiency and respect for democratic imperatives. But these matters, as well as irregularities noticed during and after the polling, will be taken up in due course. At the moment all attention needs to be devoted to the possibility of transition to democratic and responsible governance created by the election result, and more importantly by the acceptance of this result by the people as well as all political groups, including those who boycotted the polls.
There is no doubt that the people have not only voted against the erstwhile ruling party, they have in effect rejected the 9-year-old regime, its performance and its presiding deity. A sincere acceptance of the election result leaves President Musharraf with no option except his withdrawal from political scene. Even if the argument that he has been elected in accordance with law (as amended by himself) is taken seriously, it can be said that his election has been superseded by a broader-based election. The disclosure of General Musharraf’s involvement with poll-rigging in the 2002 election by Maj-Gen. Ehtisham Zamir, a former head of the ISI’s political cell, has not only strengthened the case for an immediate disbandment of this cell but has made the position of the incumbent head of state much more untenable than ever. HRCP sees no force in the plea against a change in the presidency on the ground that it might affect the war on terror. Indeed the restoration of decision-making powers to popularly elected representatives and their parliament will lend the state actions legitimacy and strength both and the performance of the armed forces in this area also should improve when they realize the importance of democratic sanction for their operations. Above all, resistance to change in the presidency will pollute the political environment, embolden anti-democratic professionals to undermine the national consensus and create unwarranted obstacles to the resumption of the people’s democratic journey.
In order to speedily conclude the electoral process it is essential that the new National Assembly and the Provincial Assemblies must be convened as early as feasible as any undue delay will amount to a defiance of the popular will. The many crises Pakistan faces demand the earliest possible transfer of power to the newly elected representatives of the people. The issues at the top of the national agenda – restoration of the judges with due guarantees of the independence of the judiciary, removal of the provinces’ grievances against the centre, rationalization of the campaign against militants and extremists – must be addressed sooner rather than later. All restrictions on the judges and their families, lawyers, and political activists must be withdrawn forthwith. Further, there is no gainsaying that any tendency to put the common citizens aspirations for bread, job, and a decent living – on the back burner will undo the recent gains by democracy and cause dangerous frustration to the masses.
Finally, HRCP wishes to hail the beginning of the end of the people’s alienation from policies and hopes that the country’s principal parties will help this trend by establishing rule by as large a democratic consensus as possible.
Iqbal Haider, Secretary General
Asma Jahangir, Chairperson