The Catholic organisation speaks out ahead of the upcoming election, which is "the central aspect of a democracy". At the same time, "results must be independently verified". The government must protect voters and stop terrorist groups.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan has issued a statement in favour of "free and fair" elections.
On Wednesday, Pakistanis go to the polls in a country still reeling from a series of attacks against polling stations. For the NCJP, the election must express the will of voters with every community participating.
In recent weeks, the Catholic organisation has stressed the need for "free and fair" elections. As an expression of the will of the electorate, they must include the participation of every community.
"Religious disagreement cannot justify denying everyone's right to vote," the NCJP statement said.
Catholics express appreciation for the elections, "the central aspect of a democracy". For this reason, "all those who are entitled should register and be able to vote."
The Commission "appreciates and congratulates the current government whose mandate has ended and now another government is going to take over."
NCJP president Mgr Joseph Arshad, NCJP national director Fr Emmanuel Yousaf (Mani) and NCJP executive director Cecil Shane Chaudhry signed the joint statement.
All three demand that "elections be transparent, that every step of the electoral process be easily understood and be open to public scrutiny by all interested stakeholders (voters, political parties, external observers). Furthermore, all results must be independently verified."
"The Church is in support of democracy. We are aware of and respectful of all democratic values,” said Fr Emmanuel Yousaf (Mani).
“We hope that during the general election all observers, civil society groups, activists and volunteers can play their part impartially," and that the members of "all communities can cast their votes regardless of the political party they support".
According to Mgr Arshad, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi and president of the Bishops’ Conference, "democracy is, in essence, people who work and walk together to support the common good.”
However, "Democracy is harmed by indifference and a society that is broken or based on individual interests. We share the concern of many citizens about an uncertain social climate with respect to vital sectors in people's lives, particularly health, education, safety, the promotion of solid human values and international responsibility."
At the same time, he notes, everyone has "to examine carefully the people they want to see in government and vote only for those interested in strengthening the development process". For their part, the authorities must "ensure peace and security during voting".
For NCJP official Aila Gill, the elections represent a key moment for "Pakistan’s minorities because their future depends on who gains power. For this they must vote very carefully.”
"The government must take essential measures to protect citizens who go to the polls. We have already seen the threats of various militant groups that want to sabotage the entire electoral process and strike at the main candidates."