Caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso’s exhortation to the caretaker setup to stay neutral marks a step forward towards adopting the standards of impartiality essential for conducting free elections. But this was not merely an innocuous advice; by summoning the Caretaker Interior Minister Malik Habib Khan over his partisan remarks made a few days ago, amid calls by the ECP and rival political parties to remove him, Mr Khoso made very clear that he would have zero-tolerance for such gaffes. Reportedly, he told the minister that not only the caretaker setup has to conduct itself impartially but is also seen to do so.

This dressing down, however, constitutes an apt reminder to the members of the caretaker setup that they could not overstep the boundaries of their mandate. With growing levels of awareness and media’s activism, any such errant minister is bound to come under a barrage of criticism. There is the factor of the ECP as well; it is keeping a watchful eye on the entire arena. The measures that it believes are necessary to free and fair polls include transferring all those bureaucrats and officials with known political affiliations. Aware of the seriousness of the situation, Prime Minister Khoso’s upbraiding to the interior minister on Saturday was followed up by the call to defanging all such officials. A number of mandarins on key positions around the officialdom have been given marching orders, while others suspected to be detrimental to democratic transition are being rounded up for necessary action.

The days when the caretakers would act in whichever way they like, are coming to an end; if not in complete substance, at least an effort is being made towards that end. This is welcome because it offers the people a chance to elect representatives of their choice. Though the instance of Mr Malik making that partisan statement throws up the proof that the old habits die hard, he has been promptly censured which shows that a new dawn might well be emerging on the horizon. With the start of the session of the Senate today, albeit without the opposition or the treasury benches puts greater responsibility on the caretakers to act with caution and avoid getting bogged down in any unwarranted arguments with the members of the house. It is in the fitness of things if everyone concerned with the process of elections join hands in order to steer the country through this phase.