Pakistan hits back at criticism of election conduct and insists cellphone curbs were necessary


ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan on Saturday hit back at criticism over the conduct of its parliamentary elections, which were held amid sporadic militant attacks and an unprecedented stoppage of all mobile phone services.

The strongly worded reaction from the Foreign Ministry insisted the vote was peaceful and successful.

The U.S. State Department said that Thursday’s vote was held under undue restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The European Union has also said it regrets the lack of a level playing field due to the inability of some political actors to contest the elections.

The ministry said it was surprised by “the negative tone of some of these statements, which neither take into account the complexity of the electoral process, nor acknowledge the free and enthusiastic exercise of the right to vote by tens of millions of Pakistanis”.

It said such statements “ignore the undeniable fact that Pakistan has held general elections, peacefully and successfully, while dealing with serious security threats resulting primarily from foreign sponsored terrorism.”

It said there was no nationwide internet shutdown and “only mobile services were suspended for the day to avoid terrorist incidents on polling day.”

A Commonwealth observer group praised election officials for holding the vote despite multiple attacks, and said it received reports of intimidation and violence against candidates, members of the media and other citizens. Without naming any party, it said it also received reports of arrests and detentions, “especially of supporters and members of a main political party.”

In Thursday’s vote, no political party gained a simple majority and independent candidates backed by imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan took a lead in the vote count.

It forced Khan’s main rival, three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, to announce plans to try to form a coalition government. Khan was disqualified from running because of criminal convictions.

Candidates backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, won 100 out of the 266 seats up for grabs in the National Assembly. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party captured 71 seats.

On Saturday, PTI chairman Gohar Khan accused authorities of rigging the vote but said despite that, his party would still form the government. He assured supporters that Khan would be among them soon after being freed, though he did not say how Khan would come out of prison.

Also Saturday, the leader of a political party was wounded and two police officers killed in a clash in the country’s northwest.

The violence broke out in North Waziristan when Mohsin Dawar and his supporters tried to march toward an army facility while protesting delays in announcing the election result, police official Zahid Khan said.

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