Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Murtaza Solangi addresses a press conference, on Saturday.—INP
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Murtaza Solangi addresses a press conference, on Saturday.—INP

ISLAMABAD: Care­ta­ker Minister for Informa­tion and Parliamentary Affairs Murtaza Solangi has assured foreign and national media that all is set to hold peaceful, free, fair and transparent elections on February 8.

“More than ample reso­u­rces are available to ens­ure peaceful, free and fair elections,” he added at a press briefing here on Saturday.

Foreign Office spokes­pe­rson Mumtaz Zahra Bal­och, special secretary to the Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan (ECP) Zafar Iqbal Hussain, principal information officer Dr Tariq Mehmood Khan and Executive Director General (External Publicity Wing) Ambreen Jan accompanied the minister.

He said 92 international observers from different countries would monitor the elections.

These observers, he added, belong to the European Union, Common­wealth, Russia, Japan, South Africa, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden, Azerbaijan, and Germany.

Mr Solangi said good arrangements were in place to ensure the security and integrity of the process, providing security to polling stations in a three-tier system, with police taking the main responsibility. He said civil armed forces and the armed forces would serve as second and third tiers of security.

When asked as to how swiftly the deployed troops could respond in case of any untoward incident, the caretaker minister drew a somewhat strange analogy between fingers and time and responded, “In terms of minutes, probably in less than the number of fingers on your hands”.

Answering a question about the elections being allegedly “one-sided with military holding the charge”, Mr Solangi said, “We are a free country. The media is free. They have been venting their dissent. They have the right to criticise any judgement of courts. As far as verdicts of the courts are concerned, the caretaker government has no comment. We do not control the courts.”

Regarding the alleged victimisation of PTI leaders and workers before elections, the caretaker minister called the allegations “baseless and absurd”.

Some PTI activists were arrested in connection with their involvement in May 9 violence or other criminal acts, he said, adding that they had options, including moving the courts against any frivolous charge.

Fifth largest democracy

Just four days were left in a major electoral exercise, he said, recalling that the country had the first adult franchise on Dec 7, 1970. “We have been holding these elections in different circumstances and continuity of democratic process goes on. I am glad to say and declare that we have become the fifth largest democracy in the world as we enter this process,” he said.

The minister said 336 National Assembly seats, including 266 general seats, were up for grabs. He said the total number of voters in Pakistan was 128.58 million out of which 69.26m were male voters and 59.32m were female voters.

He said there had been speculations about the upcoming elections, citing the severity of weather, security situation, or some other issues including the recent Pak-Iran tension. “But we have been consistent from day one as chief spokesman of the government I have held this position consistently that elections will be held on time as per the schedule announced by the ECP,” he said.

About law and order and terrorism, the minister said these issues were not new for Pakistan, as the nation had been fighting terrorism for past many years. He recalled that the 2008 and 2013 general elections were conducted despite security threats.

“Since 2021, with the change of guard in Kabul, terrorist groups of various hues and colors having safe sanctuaries in a neighboring country have become more active,” he said. Pakistan has been taking actions against terrorists and “peaceful elections will be ensured at all costs. Our battle-hardened security forces are fully prepared for the elections,” he maintained.

Economic stability

Responding to a question, the minister said that the caretaker government took important steps to improve the economy. The initiatives taken during the caretaker set-up were in the background of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) to attract investment, he explained, adding that various economic agreements were signed with friendly countries under the SIFC.

He said when the caretakers came to power in August last year, the US dollar was not available in the open market for even Rs350 to Rs400, but the steps taken by the government stablised currency.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2024

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