The process moves on
The electoral process entered the third phase of appeals against the decisions of the scrutiny officers on April 8. The first two phases were the filing of the nomination papers (March 24-31) and their scrutiny (April 1-7). The appeal stage will experience some firework among the political leaders because the scrutiny officers (Returning Officers) in their enthusiasm and with the encouragement from the Supreme Court overplayed their hands by rejecting more nomination papers than ever on subjective interpretation of some provisions of articles 62 and 63 of the constitution.
The fake degrees’ issue pertaining to the 2002 election has also gained prominence as the Supreme Court pressed the junior courts and the Election Commission to settle these matters. The session judges are not delivering judgments in rapid succession with punishments on the higher side. Most of the convicted leaders are expected to file appeals in the higher courts which will start a new legal and political wrangling.
For the first time in Pakistan’s electoral history the Chief Justice of Pakistan has addressed the Returning Officers (who have come from judicial service) in Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore while they were scrutinising the nomination papers. He assured them of the Supreme Court’s support for performing their task without any fear and that they should “stand firmly by the constitution and law…. Nobody would be allowed to interfere in electoral process or abuse it to his advantage.” The Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court also addressed their meeting and gave them a similar advice. The Returning Officers perform their task within the parameters set out in the electoral laws, constitutional provisions and the directions of the Election Commission. The Supreme Court does not come in the process directly. The speakers at the All-Pakistan Lawyers’ convention at Lahore on April 6 described the address of the Chief Justice of Pakistan to the Returning Officers as “an attempt to influence the process of the upcoming general elections.”
Political parties are slowly getting ready for the elections. The Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam Fazlur Rahman Group (JUI-F) held a mammoth public meeting in Lahore on March 31 which was no less impressive than the public rally of Imran Khan on March 23. The JUI-F had brought its religious loyalists mainly from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) who were more disciplined than Imran’s youths that were treated with Islamic discourse on the one hand and popular music and dancing on the other.
The JUI-F leadership appears quite confident about winning more seats in KP, cashing on the negative fallout of the incumbency factor for the ANP and the PPP. The other faction of the JUI, led by Maulana Samiul Haq, (JUI-S), is maintaining a low profile and intends to contest the election under an electoral alliance of some religious parties called the Muttahida Deeni Mahaz. Maulana Fazlur Rahman faces a minor encounter in Balochistan where another JUI faction, JUI-Ideological, wants to maintain its separate political identity.
The PPP is contesting elections under a separate name the PPP-Parliamentarian under the leadership of Makhdoom Amin Faheem. This arrangement goes back to the 2002 elections when the PPP-P was established to avoid any legal wrangling under the military government of General Pervez Musharraf that brought in a law that made it impossible for the PPP under the leadership of Benazir Bhutto to contest the elections. The PPP (original name) was also registered with the Election Commission in March with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as the Patron-in-Chief. However, the candidates are being put up for the elections by the PPP-P led by Makhdoom Amin Fahim. It launched its election campaign on the night of April 3-4 with the address of Bilawal Bhutto and President Asif Ali Zardari to party leaders.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sharif Group (PML-N) has held one major and some small rallies but its campaign is still slow-paced, although the potential candidate and its activists are working for political mobilization at the constituency level. The PML-N top leadership appears convinced that the PML-N will sweep the polls and that they are going to set up the government at the federal level and in the Punjab.
The other optimist about the outcome of the election is Imran Khan who has claimed to experience a dream of the PTI’s electoral victory and assumption of power by him. The PML-N appears at this stage in a clear lead in the Punjab but its position is very weak in other provinces. Therefore, at the National Assembly level its lead becomes marginal. Imran Khan is still viewed as number three after the PML-N and the PPP. However, he still has a month to go to set aside both parties.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) plans to put candidates all over the Pakistan but no one takes the MQM seriously except in urban Sindh, especially in Karachi and Hyderabad, where it will sustain its electoral domination. It is upset because the Election Commission made some changes in 3 National Assembly and 8 Sindh Provincial Assembly constituencies in Karachi on March 22, shortly before the announcement of the election schedule. The MQM views this as a conspiracy to undermine its electoral strength. It has approached the court challenging this decision. The MQM’s US leadership has sought the United Nations intervention in this matter by submitting a memorandum to the UN headquarters. This appears to be a publicity move because the MQM leadership must know that the UN cannot intervene in exclusively internal legal and political affairs.
According to the information released by the Election Commission on April 2 the registered voters are 86.15 million (males 48.57 million, female 37.56 million. These are round figures.
The nomination papers filed for the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies are 7,364 and 16,730 respectively.
The election process has so far received the commitment for funding from two external sources. Japan: US dollars 2 million; the United States: $6.5 million (out of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Assistance Programme). Some foreign funding was also available for the 2008 elections.
The distribution of party-tickets to the candidates caused internal conflicts in the PML-N, the PPP and the PTI. A large number of party-activists took to strong protest, scuffles among the supporters of different candidates and the exit of some members from the party. The ANP and several other parties also faced some difficulties in ticket allocation. How these internal problems affect election prospects of a party will be known when the election campaign picks up momentum.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.