Former President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday said he was confident that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would hold free and fair elections in the country on February 8, 2024.

With the date proposed for the general elections just two months away, the PPP has repeatedly bemoaned the lack of a level playing field. During a rally in Peshawar on Saturday, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said his party was accustomed to overcoming unfair political challenges.

“Was there any level playing field in 1988 when IJI was formed against [former prime minister] Benazir Bhutto? But still, Benazir Bhutto won the election and became the first female prime minister of the country,” he had said.

He had also highlighted how the 2002 elections under the military ruler Pervez Musharraf were “sn­­atched away” from the PPP. “Even then, PPP performed well. But some people turned out to be sellouts. Benazir termed them ‘Pakis­tan People’s Parasites’,” Bilawal had added.

However, in a statement today, Zardari said: “The country is heading towards transparent polls and the PPP is fully prepared for elections.”

“The PPP is the only party which is capable of fighting elections in all kinds of environments,” Zardari stated, adding that he was confident the PPP would emerge victorious on Feb 8.

The environment in the country is favourable for elections and polls should be held on time, Zardari said.

The former president’s statement comes a day after he held a meeting with UK High Commissioner Jane Marriott at Bilawal House in Karachi. A party statement issued after the meeting said that Zardari and Marriott, accompanied by their aides, held a detailed discussion on a “range of issues”.

Sources privy to details of the discussion told Dawn that the British envoy was keen to gauge the PPP’s confidence about the prospects of polls on Feb 8. Another point of interest for the foreign delegates, they said, was to know the party’s strategy for the upcoming national elections.

“President Zardari did not express any doubt about the Feb 8 polls because he believes that there is no other option left to run the country and the state affairs,” said a party leader.

“The PPP has made it almost public that it would not go for any formal or major alliance … but seat adjustment and deals with other contestants can be considered depending on the position of [political] parties in different constituencies.”

The PPP leader, however, shared his party’s concerns with the UK diplomat about level playing field in the run-up to polls. “I mean, he conveyed his feelings and thoughts within the party ranks about how one party [PML-N] is already seen coming into power months before the polls. The indicators and sentiments do not support the claims of level playing field,” the source said.

Separately, US envoy Donald Blome also met PPP leader Yousaf Raza Gilani yesterday. During the meeting, the leaders discussed the political landscape of south Punjab concerning the upcoming polls.

PML-N says political opponents endorsing ‘respect the vote’ slogan

Meanwhile, in an apparent reference to the PPP, PML-N leader Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the political opponents of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif were endorsing the party’s slogan of ‘vote ko izzat do’ (respect the vote) during their election campaigns.

“This means that what Nawaz Sharif used to say back in 2017 was right. That the vote should be respected and that prime ministers should not be made to vacate their posts through conspiracies,” she said while answering a question during a press conference in Lahore.

The former information minister made it clear that the person who the public voted for should be made the prime minister. “We are not saying that make me, him, or them the premier.”

Terming it an evolution, Marriyum said the ‘vote ko izzat do’ slogan chanted by the PML-N was being used by other political parties as well.

“This is a very proud moment for us that other political parties have realised and are endorsing that the vote should be respected,” she concluded.

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