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US lawmakers urge Biden administration to not recognise new Pakistan govt over alleged interference

Foreign countries including the UK and European Union had also expressed concerns over alleged rigging in elections, an internet shutdown and unusual delay in results. Pakistan is heading for a coalition government with Shehbaz Sharif expected to become the next premier.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Published on: March 01, 2024 11:02 IST
Pakistan, US lawmakers, coalition govt, rigging
Image Source : REUTERS Former PM Imran Khan's supporters protest against alleged rigging in Feb 8 elections.

Washington: At least 31 US lawmakers have signed a letter to President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging them to not recognise the new government of Pakistan until an investigation of election interference. The February 8 elections in Pakistan were marred by allegations of rigging, poll violence and a nationwide internet shutdown.

The unusually delayed results also led to accusations that the vote was rigged. The United States, Britain and the European Union have expressed concerns about reported election irregularities and urged a probe. Now, Pakistan is heading towards a coalition government between Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and four smaller parties with Shehbaz Sharif as the PM, despite candidates backed by jailed former PM Imran Khan winning the most seats.

Imran-backed candidates won 93 seats in the National Assembly despite a military-backed crackdown but did not have the numbers to form a government. He and his party rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging and claiming to win at least 180 seats. There have been widespread protests in Pakistan by several parties who have alleged that the elections were not fair and the results were rigged.

What did the letter say?

The letter by 31 members of the House of Representatives, all Democrats, on Wednesday, called on Biden and Blinken to "withhold recognition of a new government in Pakistan until a thorough, transparent, and credible investigation of election interference has been conducted". It asked them to "urge Pakistani authorities to release anyone who has been detained for engaging in political speech or activity, and task State Department officials in Pakistan with gathering information about such cases and advocating for their release".

The appeal was led by Representatives Greg Casar and Susan Wild. The signatories included Representatives Pramila Jayapal, Rashida Tlaib, Ro Khanna, Jamie Raskin, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush and Barbara Lee. "For the sake of democracy and all Pakistanis, we are calling on the Biden Administration to withhold recognition of a new government until an investigation determines the election was not rigged," said Casar on X.

The lawmakers emphasised the significance of conveying to Pakistani authorities that US law mandates accountability for acts violating human rights, undermining democracy, or fostering corruption. They underscored concerns about post-poll rigging, citing delays in reporting results, video evidence of abuses, and discrepancies in vote totals, according to Dawn.

The lawmakers argued that safeguarding democracy in Pakistan and ensuring that election results genuinely reflect the interests of the people, rather than the elite and military, aligns with US interests. They stressed the importance of a comprehensive in­­­vestigation and adheren­ce to democratic principles.

Notably, Imran Khan, the founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was ousted in 2022 after a fallout with the 'all-powerful' military and has been behind bars since August 2023, having been convicted of multiple cases and disqualified from running for office. The former PM has denied these charges. Additionally, several members of his party were jailed and PTI was stripped of an electoral symbol, meaning their members could only contest as independents.

Ruckus mars first National Assembly session

Three weeks after the general elections, the National Assembly held its inaugural session on Thursday amid noisy protests from both sides of the aisle, as 302 lawmakers took the oath of office on its first day. PTI-backed candidates, most of whom have joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), wore facemasks resembling Imran Khan and carried banners demanding his release.

The PTI MNAs were chanting slogans like ‘release Imran Khan’, ‘prisoner number 804’, ‘who will save Pakistan: Imran Khan, Imran Khan’, and ‘fake mandate and thieves are not accepted’. On the other hand, PML-N leaders waved a wristwatch — a reference to the Toshakhana case against Imran Khan. PTI supporters raised slogans against Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif, who took oath on Thursday.

The National Assembly issued a notification regarding the election of the speaker and deputy speaker which is taking place today at 10 am while the election for the office of prime minister will be held on Sunday. Shehbaz Sharif has been nominated by the PML-N-led coalition, while PTI has fielded Omar Ayub Khan as the next PM.

(with inputs from Reuters)

ALSO READ | Pakistan: Nawaz Sharif returns to parliament after 7 years, takes oath as ordinary lawmaker | WATCH


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