Lib Dem MEP Phil Bennion, now back in Brussels after observing the Pakistan election, has backed the preliminary findings of the EU Election Observer Mission that despite some irregularities, the contest was competitive and the outcome not in doubt.

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Phil Bennion MEP during his mission as an EU Observer of the Pakistan election: voting in Lahore was 'free and fair.'
The West Midlands MEP was part of a small team of MEPs working with the EU Election Observer Mission and spent Saturday observing polling in Lahore, where voting was free and fair.

The election, marking the first constitutional handover from one civilian government to another in Pakistan's history, attracted an increased turnout of around 60% of voters, despite bomb attacks by extremists which killed over 60 people. 

Phil Bennion said: "Overall, this election marks a historic victory for democracy over extremism and corruption.

"It is immensely important for the future of Pakistan that change has been delivered by the ballot box rather than by a coup or extremist threats. This means a lot for Britain too because of the close ties between our two countries and the position of Pakistan on the frontline in the battle against terrorism.

"The EU has a role to play in promoting trade, aid, justice and security. 

"In large parts of the country, including Lahore where I was on polling day, people turned out to vote in record numbers, women and men.

"I witnessed a carnival atmosphere with rival party supporters exchanging friendly banter in the streets. The main problem in Lahore was slow security checks so long queues built up but everyone still queuing at the close of poll was let in to cast their vote.

"It was deeply moving to meet so many young people, women and men, determined to vote. 'Tell the world Pakistan is not full of terrorists' they told me."

On Sunday the MEP delegation met other EU election observers and heard reports from the very large team of 40,000 monitors assembled by FAFEN, the Free and Fair Elections Network. 

Phil added:

"There were some localised reports of vote-stuffing by corrupt individuals, especially in Karachi, and women being barred from voting by extremists in one or two areas near the Afghan border. But this was not widespread. 

"Overall, it is clear that the election was competitive, turnout was well up on 2008 and the result was not in doubt. 

"We estimate that the administration at 90 per cent of polling stations was good or satisfactory in a very challenging context.

"I welcome the decision by the Pakistan Electoral Commission to order re-runs in the most disputed polling districts. I endorse the preliminary report of the EU Election Observer Mission, whose conclusions match those of FAFEN.

"I have highlighted my concern at reports of women being denied the right to vote. I have asked that this is fully reflected in the final report which will be drawn up by the EOM team over the next few weeks.

"I have also passed on concern at the lack of facilities for Pakistan citizens to vote at the High Commission or in other embassies in Europe, despite a Presidential decree suggesting this would happen.

"It is difficult to do this in a constituency-based electoral system (similar to Britain's) but a number of people made a last minute decision to fly to Pakistan to vote, after it became clear that embassy staff did not have enough time to set up voting facilities. I met some of them at the airport."

ENDS

Notes: The election is likely to deliver a new government headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, a moderately rightwing party regarded as pro-business, who is close to an outright majority. Imran Khan's PTI (Movement for Justice) is vying for second place with the formerly governing Pakistan People's Party. The PTI polled heavily but suffered from the first past the post system and won less seats than their share of the vote, especially in the Punjab. 

Phil Bennion, Lib Dem MEP for the West Midlands Region, is a member of the European Parliament's delegation to South Asia. Hundreds of thousands of his constituents have close family ties to Pakistan, India and Bangladesh

The preliminary report of the EU Election Observer Mission is here: http://www.eueom.eu/files/pressreleases/english/eom-pakistan-preliminary-statement-13052013-en.pdf 

The report of FAFEN which reaches a similar conclusion is here: http://www.fafen.org/site/v6/press-releases/press-releases/preliminary_statement_on_general_election_2013_2013_05_13_1278