‘How can the elections be free and fair in this environment?’ Rabbani questions ECP

Former Chairman Senate and PPP stalwart Senator Raza Rabbani on Saturday thundered at the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) “criminal silence” over perceived irregularities in the run-up to the polls, warning of “dire consequences” for the government if the elections are “engineered”.

Senator Rabbani, while addressing the Upper House, raised questions over the role of the armed forces in the polling process, saying that the ECP had not defined a code of conduct or terms of reference to govern the deployment of the army on polling day.

“At first, the ECP kept saying that soldiers would be deployed outside polling stations. Now it’s saying they will be also be deployed inside. What is the reason for their being stationed inside?” he asked. “The ECP should tell us why they eventually decided to deploy soldiers within polling stations. And if they will be inside, what will their function be?” he wondered.

He drew the Senate’s attention towards restrictions being placed on the media by disruptions to the circulation of certain newspapers and instructions to television channels not to air certain programmes.

Senator Rabbani also raised questions over the role of banned groups in the polls.

“Under what law has the ECP permitted banned groups to contest elections?” he asked. “Under what law have Fourth Schedulers been allowed to contest elections?”

Senator Rabbani criticised Punjab’s interim home minister’s earlier statement that he would “personally monitor” the process of removing the name of those who have been “wrongly included” in the Fourth Schedule.

“Is the ECP sleeping?” he asked, wondering if the ECP had failed to notice that “two major parties of the country are being targeted”. He referred to stoppage of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s convoy at various points, as well as an incident of stone pelting at a meeting held by former premier and PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

“Was the ECP unable to see PML-N leaders being arrested?” he asked, referring to a crackdown on members of the political party in various parts of Punjab in the days leading up to convicted former PM Nawaz Sharif’s return to the country last week. “Did the ECP question the government about this?” he wondered.

“This is criminal silence on the part of the ECP… Current events make it very clear that the caretaker government is biased. The ECP has remained silent, as though it is being told something from somewhere else,” he claimed. “The caretaker government is saying one thing, and the ECP, another,” he said, adding that these developments are casting doubts over the transparency of the upcoming polls.

Rabbani lambasted both the ECP and the caretaker government, saying they had “failed to fulfil their constitutional responsibilities”

“How is this leading to free and fair elections?” he asked, adding that “if the elections are being engineered, there will be dire consequences.”

The former Senate chairman also criticised the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for summoning election candidates and interrupting their campaigns.

“Candidates are being told to abandon their election campaigns and come sit themselves down at the National Accountability Bureau’s office,” he said.

He questioned “How will the elections be free and fair in this environment?” and said “The people of Pakistan want answers to these questions.”