The “caretaker government” is certainly an oddity in global electoral standards – a quirk in time born from the inability of political parties to trust each other to hold a free and fair election under their control. While the often protracted and controversial process of selecting a sufficiently neutral – at least on the surface – administration is rightly condemned, Pakistani politics does produce moments where a third party is required to arbitrate affairs.

It is in this vein that the Sindh caretaker cabinet has decided that political parties would have to obtain a no-objection certificate from the deputy commissioners and SSPs concerned for holding election meetings and rallies. This is a move that, counter-intuitively, should help a smooth and free electioneering process.

In a perfect world, political parties, exercising their right of the freedom of speech and the freedom to organise themselves in public space, should be able to carry out election campaigns without any fetters to their actions. By making rallies and political gathering conditional on the permission from the bureaucracy, the power to curtail and suppress certain voices is being handed squarely to the senior police leadership – should it wish to use it.

It is natural to be worried. In the past, space has been denied to parties which the state is ideologically opposed to – such as the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) – while parties that have curried favour with the authorities, despite questionable goals – such as Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), a collection of extremist minded religious parties with dubious backgrounds – has been freely allowed to hold rallies that prropogate violence and sectarianism.

However, by trying to use administrative power to muzzle each other, and by clashing over venues for rallies, political parties have invited this scrutiny on themselves. The recent petty clash between Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) workers in Karachi that escalated to a pitched battle is a perfect example – warring parties must be kept at a safe distance.

This places an immense responsibility in the hands of Karachi’s senior police administration and, by extension, the caretaker government. It must ensure that no party is given unfair preference in selection of campaign venues and, even more importantly, no party is denied space to air their electoral promises. “Security concerns” need to be balanced with the need to have an election where the populace has been given enough time and opportunity to make an informed choice.