Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi on Thursday said the law and order situation in the country thus far was not bad enough to hamper polls on February 8 as he stressed the federal cabinet had no “doubt, worry or second thoughts” about holding the upcoming general elections.

His statement comes amid concerns raised by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, first over the polls coinciding with winter and then over the security situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

However, the PPP has questioned the JUI-F’s reservations, with Senator Raza Rabbani saying that the country’s “internal security situation cannot be an excuse” to delay the polls.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has sought the deployment of the army and civil armed forces outside polling stations for the elections to meet the shortfall of over 277,000 police personnel across the country.

Today, speaking to Geo News programme Geo Pakistan, Solangi said: “The federal cabinet does not have any doubt, worry or second thought that we would not hold elections on February 8.”

“As a date has been finalised now, no one should have any doubt.” He further said that all needs of the ECP were being fulfilled.

When asked if there was ever consideration of extending the current caretaker setup, the minister responded: “There definitely was such a thought, but not among us.

“This [thought] was the creation of those people whose minds are very resourceful; those who make such grand assumptions, and when those [assumptions] collapse, they make [up] others,” Solangi added.

The information minister said he “did not hear any such statement from anyone in the federal cabinet or important state institutions” about wanting a delay in the elections due to the economy being set on the correct course.

When asked how he would ensure that the security situation was kept under control in areas considered highly sensitive, Solangi said security issues remain during every election.

Calling the security concerns in Balochistan and KP “real issues”, the minister said the country had held elections in worse circumstances.

“Our memory is a bit weak. What was the law and order situation during the elections of 2008 and 2013? If we compare that, this is nothing,” he stated.

“Yes, I cannot say what the conditions will be like tomorrow, but the situation thus far is not bad enough to cause us problems in conducting elections,” Solangi added.

Referring to the concerns raised by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, he noted that the politician had first cited winters as the reason and recalled that the polls of 1970 were even held in December

Talking about the concerns raised by the PTI and the PPP about a level playing field, the minister said that for parties not in the last government, it becomes a “necessity” to prove themselves “victim” and “oppressed” before heading into the polls.

He recalled all parties except the PPP voicing reservations in Sindh, where the PPP was in power, while the latter was speaking of the same issue on the federal level. The PML-N says that the loss incurred by them in 2018 has not been accounted for yet, Solangi added.

The minister highlighted that political parties had three forums to voice their “valid complaints” at — the media, courts and the ECP.

Speaking about the country’s economic situation, Solangi said there was “some betterment” recently and that the next government would decide the “basic direction”.

CEC Raja asserts ECP ‘fully ready, determined’ for polls

Meanwhile, Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja asserted that the electoral body is fully ready and determined for the upcoming general elections.

In a press release today, Raja said the commission was “fully aware of its constitutional and legal responsibilities”. “We are fully ready and determined for transparent and peaceful elections.”

The statement advised voters: “Do not believe the baseless reports and rumours about the elections.”

On the occasion of National Voters’ Day, the CEC encouraged voters to use their right to vote, cooperate with the ECP and ensure peaceful polls.

The CEC said the commission was currently busy preparing for the upcoming elections and that the process of printing and distributing the final delimitation lists had been completed.

He further said the ECP would appoint the district returning officers (DROs), ROs, and assistant officers in the “next few days”.

“And along with this, the election schedule will be released in a few days and polling will be held on Feb 8, 2024,” Raja asserted.

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