Govt turns down possibility of internet suspension on election day

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A day after the Balochistan government announced the temporary suspension of internet services in areas with “sensitive” polling booths, caretaker Minister for Information Murtaza Solangi Monday ruled out the possibility of an internet shutdown on February 8.

Solangi, while speaking to a private news channel, said that local administrations do have the authority to decide on the suspension of internet services in light of the law and order situation.

However, the minister clarified that no such situation has been reported so far that warrants such an action on the government’s part.

His remarks come as the country has witnessed multiple internet disruptions in the run-up to the upcoming general elections, most notably on December 7 and 17, and then again later on January 20 last month.

The government’s failure to disclose specific reasons for these internet disruptions, except for the one on January 20 which was termed a “technical fault” by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), has given way to concerns regarding possible internet shutdown on the poll day.

On Sunday, caretaker Balochistan Information Minister Jan Achakzai announced that the internet service will remain temporarily restricted in the sensitive polling booths in the province on election day.

“Ensuring the safety and security of ordinary citizens is of utmost importance, as there is a concern that terrorists may exploit social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and other similar channels for communication purposes,” Achakzai said in a statement.

Earlier this week, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja also rejected any possibility of communications and internet services outage on February 8.

“No proposal for internet shutdown on election day is under consideration,” Raja said after the ECP held a comprehensive meeting over the security arrangements and measures in the wake of terrorist attacks targeting electioneering activities.

Elaborating on such prospects, the minister termed security threats as a “serious issue”, adding that extraordinary situations required extraordinary measures.

On the issue of election delay, Solangi turned down any such possibility stressing that throughout the country’s history, there have been occasions when polls were held in harsh and difficult conditions.

To another query, he said that the caretaker government had no favourites in the elections while further reiterating the interim setup’s commitment to ensuring a level playing field for all political parties.

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