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Michael Gahler MEP, Strasbourg/Brussels, Interview

A stony path towards democracy High voter turnout in defiance of extremist threats

Interview with Michael Gahler MEP, Chief EU Observer to the General Elections 2013 in Pakistan, Strasbourg/Brussels

The European: Mr Gahler, you were appointed Chief Observer for the European Union during the 2013 general elections in Pakistan, having already performed that task once before, in 2008. Michael Gahler MEP: Yes, I appear to have done a good job in what was an extreme situation in a difficult country. My first stay began on 27 December 2007 with the murder of Ms Bhutto, just two hours before she was due to meet with me. Since then I have been to Pakistan several times in connection with the implementation of the EU’s 2008 recommendations on democracy building in Pakistan. The upshot is that the framework conditions were better this time than they were five years ago, as regards, among other things, the electoral list, the independence of the electoral commission and the freedom of the media.

The European: Did the violence before and during the election have any influence on voters? Michael Gahler MEP: The election turnout was higher than last time: about 10 million people more voted this time round. This was a real example of people “voting with their feet” against the extremists, who had declared the elections un-Islamic and carried out acts of violence against the so-called secular parties. Certainly one cannot rule out the possibility that some people stayed at home because of the threat of violence,

Michael Gahler MEP giving an interview to a local radio station

Photo: EU Election Observation Mission Pakistan 2013

Michael Gahler MEP was born in 1960 in Frankfurt/Main. Since April 1999 he has been a Member of the European Parliament. Currently he is a Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Transport and Tourism Committee, and serves as the EPP Coordinator in the Subcommittee on Security and Defence. In addition he is Chairman of the Delegation for Relations with the Pan-African Parliament and was Head of the EU Election Observation Missions in Pakistan, in February 2008, and Tunisia, on 23 October 2011.

particularly in the troubled areas along the border with Afghanistan and in Karachi.

The European: Were there any developments on the gender issue as compared with 2008? Michael Gahler MEP: This time some 37 million women were registered to vote, a marked improvement as compared with 2008. But there were still 11 million less female voters than there were men. And there were isolated attempts to keep women away from the polling stations.

The European: Will the democratic process have a chance to develop in Pakistan? Michael Gahler MEP: Since the 2008 elections we have worked intensively with the Parliament, ministries, the electoral commission and civil society. The political will is there. Following the submission of our final report containing recommendations, the EU will make an offer of continued cooperation to the new Parliament and Government. I am confident that if the mainstream parties are able to channel their political will in the same direction it will be possible to improve the democratic framework conditions necessary for good governance.

The European: And what does this mean for the region, in particular for Afghanistan? Michael Gahler MEP: I hope that a positive development of the situation in Pakistan will encourage those in Afghanistan who want to continue the reform process to pursue their efforts, even after the withdrawal of most of the western troops. The remarks by Pakistan’s Prime Minister-elect, Nawaz Sharif, about his desire to improve relations with Afghanistan and with India in particular are encouraging. If his government were to succeed in normalising relations with India, this would be a major step towards allaying tensions in this region.