Pakistan’s election authorities have granted broad judicial powers to the powerful military at polling stations during next week’s general election, a rare move that has fanned concern among political parties and human rights groups. The July 25 election is seen as a two-way race between parties led by former cricket star Imran Khan and now-jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has accused the army of working behind the scenes to favor Khan, which it denies. About 371,000 troops will spread out across Pakistan to guard the election, about three times the number during the last election in 2013. In a notice this month, the Election Commission gave soldiers the authority of a “magistrate”, to hold on-the-spot trials of anyone breaking election laws and sentence them.
In one scenario, those found guilty of the offence of “corrupt practice” could be imprisoned for up to six months.
The authority was given to officers in charge of polling stations, said Altaf Khan, a spokesman for the Election Commission. Asked if the broader responsibility could be misused, he said, “No, not at all… They are our own people.”
Some political parties objected to the move, saying the military’s traditional election duties have been limited to ensuring security.