KARACHI: Civil society, trade union activists, intellectuals, journalists, writers and political parties’ leaders, on Sunday, urged voters to cast their votes against candidates of extremist political parties. A large number of civil society and political leaders and workers spoke at a seminar on “Current election situation and curbs on freedom of expression.” The seminar was jointly organized by civil society organizations and trade unions at the auditorium of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) House. During the seminar, the speakers vowed to continue their struggle for protection of democracy even after 25th July elections and condemned the attempts to influence voters to stay away from democratic process. The speakers expressed a serious concern over the interference in the election process to manipulate the elections results. They said that concerted efforts were being made to bring certain political parties in power. Senior journalist Imtiaz Alam who also represents South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) said that except for one election which was held in 1970, all elections in the past were manipulated. He said that the media was under tight control of the establishment. He added that instructions were issued to media houses on routinely basis. “The situation after the elections would be more dangerous,” he warned, adding that judiciary was being used to influence elections. “Judiciary did not do anything for the release of disappeared persons,” he lamented. Imtiaz Alam said that another Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) had been created and Jihadi groups were being ‘mainstreamed’. He explained that these groups were being supported into reaching the parliament. “But despite all out efforts they are foreseeing their failure so they have started using undemocratic tactics,” said Imtiaz Alam. Imtiaz Alam asked people to oppose all those parties and candidates who used religion for politics. “We need to oppose those who are not talking about people’s right to rule and those who belong to King’s Party,” he asserted. Alam also said that all democratic forces in the country needed to be united. “We have to be prepared and forget small differences,” he added. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST) Head of Social Sciences Department, Dr. Riaz Shaikh suggested that social media be utilized to mobilize public for casting their vote. He stressed on the need to vote for pro-democracy candidates. “On the Polling day all violations can be reported immediately on social media,” he recommended. Dr. Shaikh also suggested forging unity in the ranks of democratic people after elections. “Every month we should hold a meeting as how to face challenges to the democracy. Professional organizations, civil society, students, trade unions should make a joint group which should do consultations on the people’s issues,” he said. Dr Shaikh also said that conspiracies were being hatched against the 18th Amendments. “They want to promote extremism and change the syllabus,” he added. Nasir Mansoor of National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) said that the establishment’s intervention remained in all elections. “What is different this time is that common people are openly speaking about it,” said Mansoor. He feared difficult times ahead after the elections. “Even if people casted anti-establishment vote or rejected them there will be a chaos in the society,” he added. Senior writer Zahida Hina said that Punjab’s situation had changed now and people had realized that their right to vote was under threat. “Our actual resistance will start after 25th July,” she said adding that the civil society had to be prepared for a long-term war for people’s rights. Yousuf Mustikhan of Awami Workers Party (AWP) said that all pillars of the state had been destroyed except for one, which was interfering in politics.”Your right to vote is being snatched,” he told the audience. “They openly abolished Balochistan government and interfered in Senate elections. Even today, bodies of political workers are being recovered from Balochistan but the media is not ‘allowed’ to report on these issues,” said Mustikhan before adding that a net of terrorism had been spread all over the country. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Vice Chairman Asad Iqbal Butt said that a change was only possible when people who had fought for democracy in Pakistan presented a united front. “Pakistan has been facing Martial laws because they were unable to stop people from exercising their right of vote,” he said. He informed the gathering that HRCP had monitored elections in the past and it would monitor them this time too. “We are receiving complaints that law enforcement agencies are asking people to vote for a particular party. If people refuse, they ask them not to exercise their right of vote on the Polling day,” he stated. He added that there was a nexus of judiciary with the establishment. “The judiciary has clearly failed to provide justice to people,” said Asad Iqbal Butt. Labour leader Liaqat Sahi said that workers were facing a grave violation of their rights. “The Supreme Court has not provided any relief to the workers in third party contract system,” he lamented. Trade unions leader Habibuddin Junaidi, Aurat Foundation Director Mahnaz Rahman, Director, Karamat Ali of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) and student leader Naghma Shaikh also spoke on the occasion. The meeting decided to hold a post-budget meeting of the civil society on July 27 to discuss their future line of action. Published in Daily Times, July 23rd 2018.