Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar on Tuesday appeared irked with what he said was the media “misquoting” his remarks that “fair elections” were possible even without PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
In an interview with The Associated Press last week, the prime minister had said that “fair” polls were possible without Imran and his party leaders, who were jailed as part of a state crackdown in the aftermath of violent riots across the country on May 9.
The PTI had rejected the premier’s remarks, saying elections without Imran would be “unconstitutional and illegal”. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had also taken strong exception to PM Kakar’s remarks, calling them “anti-democratic” and “ill-judged”.
Questioned about the matter while talking to the media in London today, PM Kakar said: “I don’t have knowledge of the unknown about who the upcoming elections will be held with or without.
“Such sentences are repeatedly circulated and attempted to be associated with me which is never my intention or my purpose.”
He complained that oftentimes, half sentences were cherry-picked from an entire paragraph for a lead story by the media. “It is a great misfortune that people are misquoted and misled,” the prime minister added.
On the question of whether the PTI chief would be able to participate in elections, the premier asked if a British-Pakistani citizen could partake in the electoral process or not.
“No? why? because laws do not permit you. And if the law permits any person, whoever political leader they are, then they will take part [in elections] and if it doesn’t, then they won’t.”
He said the caretaker government had no role in the issue, adding that what people did not understand was that these were all legal matters, not political or administrative.
“As far as laws and procedures and due process are concerned, I cannot change them and even if I want to, my hands are tied.”
On the election date, the prime minister said the Election Commission of Pakistan would fulfil its responsibility and a date would be announced soon.
Ministry says remarks ‘misunderstood and misreported’
Earlier in the day, the caretaker government said PM Kakar’s remarks were “misunderstood and misreported”.
In a clarification, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said PM Kakar was “plain speaking to suggest that whereas participating in the elections was a right, but retribution for crimes was legally warranted”.
The ministry said the interview was “twisted by some outlets” to give the impression that someone would not be allowed to take part in the general elections.
The government drew attention to the following text of PM’s interview: “We are not pursuing anyone on a personal vendetta. But yes, we will ensure that the law is appropriate. Anyone, be it Imran Khan or any other politician who violates, in terms of their political behaviour, the laws of the country, then the restoration of the law has to be ensured. We cannot equate that with … political discrimination.”
The information ministry reiterated in its statement that the PTI and its leaders were free to participate in the elections like any other party. “It has been clarified that there is no impediment to contesting elections by any leader of PTI or the party as a whole.”
The statement further added that every citizen was equal before the law and the law would take its course with respect to any person currently facing legal charges.
“The courts are free and independent and the caretaker government has neither authority nor intention to influence the courts at any level,” the statement noted, clarifying that any person aggrieved by any order or ruling of a statutory or judicial forum had a constitutionally guaranteed right to approach the next forum in judicial hierarchy for relief.
“The caretaker government is committed to holding free and fair elections. The caretaker government will support the constitutional and legal structure for holding elections and would ensure that all orders and directions of the Election Commission of Pakistan and independent judiciary are complied with in letter and spirit,” the statement added.
‘No institutional favour to any party in polls’
Meanwhile, in an interview with TRT World, PM Kakar termed Pakistan a transitional democracy and assured that the electoral process would be neutral, fair, and free.
He stressed that there would not be any “organisational or institutional involvement”, either in favour of one person or a political group.
On protests by PTI supporters, he said a protest, if it remained peaceful, was their basic and democratic right.
“The government will try to protect the democratic right of any political party be, it PTI, PML-N and PPP,” he said. However, he stressed that any kind of vandalism in the name of protests would not be allowed.
To a question on civil-military relations, he said to ensure functional governance, the civilian institutions had been relying on the military due to its organisational capabilities and to deal with day-to-day challenges in multiple areas, including health, education, disaster management and tax revenue collection.
Kakar said civil institutions needed to enhance their capability to improve service delivery.