Senators belonging to the embattled PML-N on Friday expressed serious reservations regarding the countrywide elections due in less than a week, and demanded that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the caretaker government address their concerns urgently.
Speaking during a session requisitioned by the PML-N, Senator Muhammad Javed Abbasi warned that "dark clouds are looming over the elections" and that the nation would have to bear a "heavy loss" if the situation didn't change.
He said it was the ECP's responsibility to hold free and fair elections, adding that, besides PML-N, other parties have also expressed reservations over the current circumstances.
He then went on to list several concerns of his party in the lead-up to the polls.
Abbasi claimed that political parties are not being allowed opportunities to conduct their election campaigns; that "filters are being installed" before the elections and that police personnel are hounding PML-N leaders.
"The [caretaker] government should tell us: what is our fault?" the senator asked. He also asked why the ECP had not issued directions to prevent arrests of political workers.
"[We] don't see free and fair elections taking place in Pakistan," he said, adding that the PML-N's link with voters could not be broken by imprisoning its quaid Nawaz Sharif.
Abbasi also alleged that an atmosphere was being created for "one leader" to run his election campaign and urged the ECP to "open its eyes".
"Don't establish customs which you might regret tomorrow," he cautioned. "Our reservations should be addressed."
'New York Times is not a PML-N newspaper'
PML-N Senator Pervaiz Rasheed in his speech said if the results of the July 25 elections come out in favour of "those with empty chairs [at rallies]" — an apparent reference to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) — and against "those with filled rallies" — a reference to the PML-N — then "the anger will not be against the winners, but those who enabled the winners".
He said elements in Pakistan had not learnt from its electoral history, adding that international media too has published or broadcast concerns over the elections.
"The New York Times is not a PML-N-owned newspaper," he said. "And neither are other broadcasting houses."
"You have done the interference that you had to do in the elections," he said, without naming whom he was addressing. "You have broken and formed political parties using your force."
"Don't commit acts that will damage your reputation [...] do not interfere in the election results," he added
"This country was not conquered by the royal military army battalion," Rasheed added acidly.
'Visit from agriculture department officials'
Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed meanwhile claimed that some party workers from Okara had called him yesterday and said that they were approached by "people from the agriculture department" — a phrase the PML-N has been using in reference to security personnel — who had asked them to vote for the "jeep".
"I told them the jeep has been punctured now," Syed said, adding that he will reveal the names and ranks of the persons who are allegedly forcing his party workers to switch loyalties.
"The filth that [they] wanted to create has been created," he said. "Let free elections be held now ... or the reaction will be such that no force will be able to stop it."
The PML-N senator also said that the caretaker government had "failed completely" and suggested that his party will move to have the Constitution amended in order to eliminate the caretaker set-up.
He claimed that some journalists had told him that the verdict against Nawaz Sharif and others in the Avenfield reference was announced "immediately after something was brought [into the accountability court] in a bag [marked with] Serena Hotels [insignia]".
He alleged that the judgement against Sharif was pre-written and a conspiracy was planned to sentence the former prime minister before the elections in order to prevent him from taking part in the election campaign.
Meanwhile, PML-N Senator retired Lt Gen Abdul Qayyum expressed a lack of confidence in Punjab caretaker Chief Minister Dr Hassan Askari, saying he doesn't possess the experience required for his post.
"The Punjab chief minister can be a good professor [instead]," he said.
Senator Rana Maqbool Ahmad taunted the Punjab chief minister, saying his 'Askari' surname was befitting because he supports the 'Askari' forces.
Senator Qayyum complained that the PML-N government had never registered cases against opponents "even if they protested in front of parliament", yet his party's workers have now been booked in various cases in Punjab.
Speaking during the session, Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq expressed reservations over the decision to give magisterial powers to Rangers personnel during elections.
The PPP had earlier conveyed similar concerns.
"There is no past precedent of Rangers being granted [magisterial] powers," she noted.
Election coordination centre set up
Appearing before the Senate, caretaker Interior Minister Azam Khan revealed that his ministry has set up an 'election coordination and facilitation centre' to oversee electoral affairs and issues related to security threats faced by candidates.
In light of the threats, the federal government has also allowed electoral candidates to keep a private security guard with them.
Khan told the upper house that while it was ECP's responsibility to hold free and fair elections, it is the interior ministry's responsibility to cooperate with the commission.
He said the ministry is coordinating with all stakeholders, especially the provinces, ECP and the National Counter Terrorism Authority. Leaders of political parties have been informed regarding the security threats and steps have been taken for their protection.
Khan said army personnel will be deployed on July 25 for a peaceful conduct of the elections. The troops will be present inside and outside the polling stations, he disclosed.
Besides politicians, measures will be taken to ensure the security of international election observers and Chinese nationals working on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Trust the ECP to hold free and fair elections: Sanjrani
The Senate chairman had earlier in the day thrown his support behind the ECP, backing the watchdog to hold "free and fair elections".
A series of terrorism incidents and the subsequent impediments in holding elections rallies have led some — including Sadiq Sanjrani's predecessor, Raza Rabbani — to claim that the July 25 polls are already controversial.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has also predicted that the coming general elections will be the dirtiest, most micromanaged and most intensively participated polls in the country’s history.
Sanjrani, however, has urged all the stakeholders "to trust the ECP" and believes that "the elections will be free and fair".
"The election commission was strengthened and its members were nominated by parliament, so we should trust them."
Sanjrani, who became the chairman of the upper house in March, further said: "All the institutions, including the Senate's standing committee, are working [towards holding free and fair elections]."