Fears mount in Pakistan over military’s election powers

Street poles are decorated with the flags and banners of political parties ahead of a general election in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, July 23, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 23 July 2018

Fears mount in Pakistan over military’s election powers

  • Analysts warn powers granted for military overseeing of election polls could erode trust in the tense contest
  • The 'magisterial powers' effectively make them judge and jury to punish individuals for illegal acts

ISLAMABAD: 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.

UK PM May seeks Brexit fix in talks with rivals

Updated 43 min 36 sec ago

UK PM May seeks Brexit fix in talks with rivals

  • May reached out to rival parties night shortly after surviving a no-confidence vote
  • May’s olive branch offer came after a hectic 24 hours that saw her Brexit deal defeated

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May scrambled to put together a new Brexit strategy on Thursday with cross-party talks after MPs sparked political turmoil by rejecting her previous agreement with the EU.
May reached out to rival parties on Wednesday night shortly after surviving a no-confidence vote, hoping to hammer out a Brexit fix that she could present to parliament on Monday.
Just over two months remain before the world’s fifth-largest economy is due to leave the EU, its closest trading partner, after 46 years.
But the island nation is still embroiled in many of the same arguments that were raging when voters defied government warnings and voted to leave in a 2016 referendum.
May’s olive branch offer came after a hectic 24 hours that saw her Brexit deal defeated by a historic margin in one vote and her government then cling on to power in a second one, by a narrow margin of 325 to 306.
May conceded in a Wednesday night television address to the nation that Britons might find the political upheaval “unsettling.”
She called on the opposition Labour party and its smaller pro-EU allies “to put self-interest aside” and attempt to find a solution to end the deadlock.
“The government approaches these meetings in a constructive spirit and I urge others to do the same,” she said.

Immediate hurdles

But May ran into immediate hurdles as top MPs set out demands and conditions contradictory to the government’s current stance.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would only sit down with May if she ruled out the possibility of a “no-deal Brexit.”
That scenario would see trade barriers go up overnight as existing agreements between Britain and the EU expire on March 29.
May’s meetings late Wednesday with top MPs from the pro-EU Liberal Democratic Party and the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties also yielded fresh demands.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) is trying to rule out “no-deal” and secure a second referendum, which could only be held if Brexit is postponed.
“For any discussion between your government and the SNP to be meaningful, these options must be on the table,” SNP parliament leader Ian Blackford said in a letter to May released after their meeting.
But Liberal Democrat chief Vince Cable said May showed a strong desire to engage with her parliamentary foes.
“I think in the current state of crisis that is a positive,” Cable told BBC Radio.

Brexit principles

May herself hinted on Wednesday that Brexit might be postponed if London rallies around a single set of proposals that it could present to the other 27 EU leaders.
She told parliament that Brussels would allow this “if it was clear that there was a plan toward moving toward an agreed deal.”
The British pound has rallied over the course of the week on expectations of a delay to Brexit.
Such a postponement would stop the UK immediately crashing out of the world’s largest single market.
But May has so far stuck to two Brexit principles that — if broken — could see more members of her own Conservative party revolt: limiting EU migration and pursuing an independent trade policy.
Both of those red lines are at odds with opposition hopes for membership of an EU customs union or its single market.
“We can’t stay in the current EU customs union,” Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis told BBC Radio.