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Asia

EU observers praise Pakistani elections

Despite a campaign marred by violence and irregularities, EU observers have praised Pakistan's landmark elections on May 11 as a positive step for democracy. Still, they urge the new government to press on with reforms.

Michael Gahler is well known in Pakistan. The German politician and member of the European Parliament had already been chief observer of the European Union's elections observation mission (EOM) to Pakistan in 2008. After this year's May 11 parliamentary elections, he was full of praise for the Pakistani voters.

"Election day showed the commitment of the people of Pakistan to democratic governance by overcoming militant violence," Gahler said in a statement. He described the electoral process as "competitive," emphasising that there were twice as many candidates this time around as in 2008.

The EOM was joined this year by a delegation of three members of the European Parliament acting as short-term observers and chaired by Richard Howitt, who referred in a statement to the landmark vote as "a step forward."

Violence and irregularities

But while various aspects of Pakistan's electoral process may have improved, there were many complaints of shortcomings. For instance, polling in 9 percent of the stations visited by the EOM was rated as "poor or inadequate." Besides, the decision by Pakistan's Election Commission to extend voting by one hour was criticized as having caused "confusion." Furthermore, the mission failed to monitor the southwestern, insurgency-torn province of Baluchistan or the semi-autonomous tribal belt on the Afghan border where the Taliban and al Qaeda have strongholds.

But the EU's greatest concern remained the deadly militant violence experienced both in the run-up to the ballot as well as on election day itself. "There were 62 reported election-related security incidents on election day resulting in 64 deaths," Gahler said.

'Confidence in democracy'

However, EU observers believe the attacks and threats made by militant groups must not overshadow the achievements of the polls. "The turnout in defiance of the threats against the process was an extraordinary vote of confidence in democracy itself," said Howitt.

The observers will remain in the country until June 5 to monitor the tabulation of results and electoral dispute resolution mechanisms.

The members of the European Parliament already have a message for Pakistan's future prime minister Nawaz Sharif: "We call on all those elected to sustain their commitment to reforms, in the interests of good government for the people and good governance for the state," said Howitt.

gd/shs (AFP, dpa)

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