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ISLAMABAD: The two major political parties and arch-rivals of the past — Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) — seem to be coming closer on some issues ahead of the general elections as they lashed out at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the caretaker government on Thursday for their alleged failure to provide a level playing field to the parties.

Also read: Elections already stand rigged, alleges PPP’s ex-senator

Speaking on “matters of public importance” in the Senate, a majority of the members questioned the “larger role” given to the army in the conduct of elections and asked Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to summon the chief election commissioner and the ECP secretary before the Committee of the Whole House to seek an explanation over the commission’s “failure” to play its constitutional role in ensuring the elections in a transparent manner.

Earlier, the former ruling PML-N had been making a hue and cry over the role of the institutions, particularly the judiciary, ECP and National Accountability Bureau (NAB), but now the PPP has also joined its voice with the former on the floor of the Senate, only days after the Federal Investigation Agency summoned former president Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in a “fake bank accounts” case.

The PPP senators were enraged over the decision of the caretaker government to place the names of Mr Zardari and Ms Talpur on the Exit Control List (ECL). They said caretaker Interior Minister Muhammad Azam Khan had stated on the floor of the house that the names of the PPP leaders had been placed on the ECL on the orders of the Supreme Court whereas the apex court had clarified that it had not issued any such directive. Former interior minister Rehman Malik demanded an apology from those who had “defamed” the party leadership.

Senators lambaste ECP, caretaker govt for not playing constitutional role

The senators also expressed concern over the deteriorating law and order situation and criticised the caretaker government for “not providing security to the election candidates”.

The senators also accused NAB of becoming a tool in the hands of the “establishment”.

PPP stalwart and former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani said the July 25 elections had already become “controversial due to meddling” by an institution and “failure” of the ECP to play its constitutional role. He said the PPP had even named the army’s colonels and majors interfering in the poll process. He alleged that the candidates were being pressurised to either change their parties or withdraw from the race.

“Where is the defence minister? He should come and explain this interference,” he said, adding that ECP officials should be called before the house to explain as to what role it had assigned to the army and what powers it had given to the troops.

“NAB can only see two parties. The third one is invisible to it. Are the lotas (turncoats) who had switched allegiance and joined a different party above blame now? Why are they not being held accountable?” he asked.

Leader of the Opposition Sherry Rehman alleged that the PPP was being stopped from running its election campaign. She regretted that the party was facing a complete media blackout. The media was facing the worst kind of censorship and they had earlier seen such tactics only during the military rule of Gen Ziaul Haq, she added.

Usman Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Mili Awami Party termed the July 25 elections “a fight between the political parties and the establishment”.

“The ECP and all other institutions have become dysfunctional. Practically, there is a martial law in the country. Media is facing worst censorship. All the institutions are being forced to seek direction from the GHQ,” he said, adding that the country was being treated like an “occupied state”.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Shibli Faraz rejected the allegations that his party was being supported by the establishment and said that an impression was being created that the ECP was not providing a level playing field. He said the two parties [PML-N and PPP] had once again joined hands as they knew that their era was about to be over.

Mr Faraz claimed that the PTI would form the government after the July 25 elections and said that if the state institutions were not functioning properly then these two parties were responsible for it as they had been in power for the last 10 years.

PML-N’s Mussadiq Malik expressed concern over the reports of a large number of arrests of the party workers in various parts of the country. He alleged that a new alliance had been formed in Sindh.

“There are ‘jeeps’ in the elections which are hitting democracy”, he said in an apparent reference to the reports that a number of independents contesting the election on the symbol of “jeep” are backed by the establishment.

Prof Sajid Mir of the Jamiat Ahle Hadith, who had been elected senator on a PML-N ticket, asked the parties to unite against interference of one “institution”.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2018