Washington: As the general elections were underway in Pakistan. the United States on Thursday expressed concern over election-related violence and restrictions on mobile and internet services across the country, while asserting that Pakistan’s future leadership is for the Pakistani people to decide. The Biden administration is closely monitoring the electoral process as vote counting was underway.
“Millions of Pakistanis went to the polls today to vote, and I will reiterate that Pakistan’s future leadership is for the Pakistani people to decide, and our interest continues to be in the democratic process,” US State Department’s Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said during a daily news conference. He condemned all instances of election-related violence, both in the weeks preceding as well as on the polling day on Thursday.
“These kinds of election-related violence, we believe, affected a broad range of political parties across Pakistan. It impacted polling stations, election officers, as well as the election commission… We are tracking reports of restrictions on internet and cellphone access across Pakistan on polling day. And we, along with the international community, will continue to emphasize the importance of democratic institutions, a free press, a vibrant civil society, and expanded opportunities for the political participation of all of Pakistan’s citizens. But I am not going to get ahead of any of the other official election results, so I’m not going to comment on this any further,” Patel added.
The State Department also refrained from commenting on preliminary results, but maintained that it took the electoral process seriously. “We are going to continue to monitor the electoral process. We are not going to get ahead of any official results, and we want to see a process that took place in a way that allowed for broad participation, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” Patel said.
US lawmakers condemn political violence
Meanwhile, US Congress lawmakers also condemned the use of political violence, cell phone service shutdowns and restrictions on freedom of expression in Pakistan. “Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of a functioning democracy. I condemn the use of political violence and the restriction on freedom of expression in Pakistan. I am closely monitoring the situation on the ground and urge officials to adhere to the rule of law,” said Democrat Congresswoman Dina Titus on X.
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 a delay in announcing the election results. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib asserted that democracy in Pakistan is at serious risk and that people should be able to elect their leaders without interference and tampering with the process.
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.
Polling in Pakistan
The counting of votes was underway after polling concluded at 5 pm on Thursday. The parliamentary elections were marked by claims of rigging, several delays and sporadic violence after the government imposed a temporary shutdown of mobile and internet services to maintain peace amid a surge in militant violence.
There were reports of the voting process facing delays at certain polling stations across the country and at least one terror attack on security forces performing election duties that killed five policemen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Dera Ismail Khan. In many places, some voters waited outside polling stations where the doors had not opened since the polling staff had not shown up for duty. At many polling stations, the staff also complained about a shortage of ballot papers and incorrect papers leading to a long delay in the voting process.
A scuffle has been reported between Nawaz Sharif-led PML-N and Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party workers in NA-49 Attock, leading to a temporary suspension of polling at two polling stations. After a delay of approximately five hours, polling resumed at both locations. The party alleged irregularities in several polling stations, including voters being stopped from entering, absence of staff and shortage of ballot papers.
(with inputs from agencies)
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