Karachi, 4 February 1997

IPO observers question Commonwealth team's findings


KARACHI: The observers of the International Progress Organization have questioned the validity of the statement of former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser, head of the Commonwealth Observer Group, that everyone who wanted to vote in the Feb 3 general election was able to do so.

The IPO observers, Prof. Dr. Hans Koechler of Austria and Prof. Dr. Tuerkkaya Ataoev of Turkey, said in an statement issued on Tuesday that Fraser's statement was not correct in its generalization.

"Mr. Fraser is also wrong when he states, as he did on BBC, that everyone could give his vote freely without any pressure", the statement said.

The IPO observers wanted to know the methodology Fraser and his group adopted to collect information on which they based their generalized statement. "They definitely did not do the job as independent observers should do as they seem to have avoided the difficult areas or to have neglected evidence that is available not only to the IPO observers, but to many Pakistan journalists. The Commonwealth Observer Group should carefully read Tuesday's Pakistani newspapers in that regard".

The IPO observers who visited around a dozen polling stations in Karachi, re-affirmed that many people were not allowed to vote because of the changing of electoral lists and other irregularities.

The IPO observers have documented serious violence and intimidation of voters in several districts of Karachi. "People where threatened in regard to the expression of their political choice, and two members of one of the electoral parties, the MQM, were murdered. Dozens of serious incidents and irregularities came to the knowledge of the IPO observers", the statement adds.

The Vienna based IPO observers have further pointed in their statement to an apparent contradiction between Monday's statement of President Leghari about voter turnout in the range of 26 to 27 percent and the actual returns later announced by the electoral authorities. It is noteworthy that in many of the districts where the new majority party won, a much higher turnout was reported, whereas the reported turnout in districts where other parties won seems to be much lower.

"It will be necessary to investigate these facts in order to restore the confidence of the public and of the international community in the electoral process in Pakistan", the statement concluded.