Islamabad - The Senate was informed on Friday that an election coordination and facilitation centre (ECFC) has been established at the Interior Ministry which is working round the clock to tackle security threats being faced by contesting candidates.

Responding to the discussion on law and order situation, Caretaker Interior Minister Muhammad Azam Khan said that in the light of security threats, the federal government has allowed contesting candidates to have a private security guard.

The minister said that the responsibility of conducting free and fair elections rests with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), while the Interior Ministry was responsible to cooperate with the commission.

He said that the election cell was carrying out effective coordination with all stakeholders, particularly the provincial governments, the election commission Islamabad and the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NCTA) for ensuring the law and order during the electioneering.

“We have deployed civil armed forces as per requirements of the provincial governments and the ECP,” he said.

The minister said that the NACTA, the Intelligence Bureau and other intelligence agencies were also supporting the interior ministry in this regard.

Khan said that Pakistan Army personnel will be deployed inside and outside polling stations for security purposes, while provincial governments will make arrangements for the installation of CCTV cameras at most sensitive polling stations.

The interior minister said that provincial governments have been requested to provide security to candidates, foreign observers and the Chinese working on CPEC and non-CPEC projects.

Senator Muhammad Javed Abbasi warned that "dark clouds are looming over the elections" and that the nation would have to bear a "heavy loss" if the situation did not change.

He said that it was the ECP's responsibility to hold free and fair elections, adding that, besides the PML-N, other parties have also expressed reservations over the current circumstances.

While listing to the concerns of his party about the elections, Abbasi claimed that political parties were not being allowed opportunities to conduct their election campaigns and added that "filters are being installed" before the elections and that the police personnel are hounding PML-N leaders.

"The caretaker government should tell us, what is our fault?" the senator asked. He also asked why the ECP had not issued directions to prevent arrests of political workers. "We don't see free and fair elections taking place in Pakistan," he said and added that the PML-N's link with voters could not be broken by imprisoning its Quaid Nawaz Sharif.

Abbasi also alleged that an atmosphere was being created for "one leader" to run his election campaign and urged the ECP to "open its eyes".

"Don't establish customs which you might regret tomorrow," he warned.

PML-N Senator Asif Kirmani said that the caretaker set-up has failed to provide security to ensure transparent elections. He expressed concerns about the fresh wave of terrorism in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa targeting election rallies and killing several people.

PML-N Senator Lt-Gen (retd) Abdul Qayyum said that the PML-N did not believe in politics of conspiracies and everyone should come forward on the basis of performance.

PML-N Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed claimed that some party workers from Okara had called him on Thursday and said that they were approached by "people from the agriculture department" asking them to vote to "jeep". "I told them the jeep has been punctured now," he said and added that he will reveal the names and ranks of the persons who were allegedly forcing his party workers to switch loyalties.

"The filth that they wanted to create has been created," he said. "Let free elections be held now or the reaction will be such that no force will be able to stop it," he warned.

The PML-N senator also said that the caretaker government had completely failed and suggested that his party will move to have the Constitution amended in order to eliminate the caretaker set-up.

He claimed that some journalists had told him that the verdict against Nawaz Sharif and others in the Avenfield reference was announced "immediately after something was brought into the accountability court in a bag marked with Serena Hotels insignia".

He alleged that the judgment against Sharif was pre-written and a conspiracy was planned to sentence the former prime minister before the elections in order to prevent him from taking part in the election campaign.

MQM Senator Ateeq Shaikh said that free and fair elections were vital for continuity of democracy in the country.

PML-N Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq said that it was an irony that a particular party was being facilitated, whereas PML-N candidates were being harassed and the ECP should take notice of the issue.

Senator Pervaiz Rashid said that credible elections reflect people’s will and everyone should accept this and there should be no interference in the way of free, fair and transparent elections.

PTI Senator Shibli Faraz said that the PML-N was afraid of its likely defeat in the upcoming general election that was why it was maligning others.

PTI Senator Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar said that the government should provide complete security to all political parties for a smooth and peaceful election.

Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed said that across the board accountability and free, fair, and transparent elections were vital for democracy.

PML-N Senator Rana Maqbool Ahmad taunted the Punjab caretaker chief minister, saying his 'Askari' surname was befitting because he supports the 'Askari' forces.

MQM Senator Nighat Mirza said that her party was not being allowed to run election campaign in Karachi and the ECP should take notice of the situation.

Earlier, Senate Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani urged all the stakeholders "to trust the ECP". Talking to the media, he said that he believed that "the elections will be free and fair".

"The election commission was strengthened and its members were nominated by the parliament, so we should trust them," he said.

The Senate chairman said: "All the institutions, including the Senate's Standing Committee on Interior, are working towards holding free and fair elections."