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An Exclusive Conversation with Ms Hannah Roberts

Deputy Chief of the European Union Election Observer Mission

Jahangir’s World Times (JWT): The European Union Election Observer Mission has formally deployed long-term observers across Pakistan. Can you spell out details?

Ms Hannah Roberts (HR):
We have deployed 52 long-term observers in different parts of Pakistan. These people come from different EU member states, Norway and Canada. These countries have pledged to support us for the Pakistan elections 2013. These observers will work in a group of two which means we have fours eyes now rather than two to observe the electoral process and to maintain a balance of opinion among the observers. We have deployed them in 26 different area of Pakistan. Seven teams have been deployed in Sindh and sixteen teams in Punjab while some teams will be based at Islamabad for monitoring the elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). We are aiming to cover 193 out of the total 272 constituencies. Though it’s not the total coverage of 2013 Elections in Pakistan, still it gives us a wider area. It’s; definitely, not absolute but it gives us a gist of the happenings across the country.

JWT: You have mentioned the deployment of 23 teams in Punjab and Sindh; In which districts of both the provinces are your teams based at?

HR: We have maintained a list of these districts which cover a large of areas of these two provinces. We wished to cover all areas but due to some impediments like limited number of observers and security issues Balochistan and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s FATA region, it isn’t possible for us to deploy wholly the election observation methodology which the EU has chalked out and has been applying for the last 20 years in different election across the globe.

JWT: The EU is not going to send its long-term observers to Balochistan and FATA. Is the mission devising some strategy to send its observers to these regions on the polling day?

HR:  It’s indeed a very good question. Well, there will be a considerable interest in doing that. But just looking at the things on polling day only, we may have the wrong conclusions. Election is much more than an activity for the polling day only. We observe whether candidates are allowed to campaign, whether there is a level-playing field available to all of them, how results are compiled after the polling has finished. Furthermore, assessment of the whole process continues after the election as well on the issues like how appeals and complaints are dealt with. While only covering the polling day, we really will not understand what is going on. Hence, we will not be able to give an accurate or reliable commentary that is essential to make useful recommendations.

JWT: You are saying that the provision of level-playing field to all the candidates is indispensable to conduct transparent elections. We see some parties complaining about inadequate security measures. Is it a denial of the right of level-playing field?

HR: Of course, we believe there should be no room for violence in a democratic process. We are much concerned that these heinous acts are still on. What we need to look at as observers is the extent whether this is affecting some parties or individuals differently than others. We also note what measures the state is taking to curb the acts of terrorism.

JWT: Do you consider the demands of some political parties for enhanced security as legitimate?

HR: It is absolutely important that all the candidates and the voters are safe. But in reality, it is problematic in Pakistan. We cannot say what exactly should be provided and what is being provided. We aren’t properly equipped to answer that question. But certainly, it’s important that all candidates are safe, the voters are able to get variety of information and the candidates are physically going to meet the people and hold public gatherings.

JWT: Do you think that killing of the candidates is affecting the transparency of the electoral process?

HR: Again, it’s to look at the extent to which this problem is affecting the electoral process. There is no place of violence in the electoral process but it’s happening in some parts of Pakistan and we are also witnessing it.

JWT: Are you taking note of this violence as a part of your report?

HR: We will be presenting a preliminary report after two days of the polling. One of the things we will be looking at is the environment in which the elections are going to be held including the security and how it impacts the process, the candidates, the voters and how the administration delivers in the difficult circumstances. We are looking whether it can be seen as a genuine election and is as per commitments made by Pakistan. We believe violence does undermine the genuine elections.

JWT: Will the outcome of the election impact the Pakistan’s relations with the European Union?

HR: If the election process is genuine and transparent and also if there is an interest in the reform process after the election, it can and will improve the image of Pakistan and give an opportunity to improve relations with the EU.

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