RECENTLY، the President of Pakistan invited the Chief Election Commissioner to the President House, so that he the (President) could give a date for the forthcoming elections. The Chief Election Commissioner refused to meet the President, and instead sent a letter to him in which the CEC asserted that, in view of the latest amendments in the election laws, fixing the date of the elections was no longer the prerogative of the President. Some legal experts, however, claim that according to the constitution the role of the President to fix a date for elections is still there, as a bill cannot override a constitutional provision. Be it as it may, I believe that CEC should have shown courtesy, and called on the President, as the President is the senior most office holder of the federation. The CEC did not have to necessarily agree with the President, by just calling on him.
The Election Commission has instead started a process of inviting the political parties, to ask them to share their position on the holding of elections. So far, the Election Commission has conducted meetings with: Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N); Pakistan People’s Party (PPP); Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI); Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM-P); Jamaat-i-Islami; Awami National Party (ANP) and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F).
So far, the PTI, the JI and the PPP have demanded elections within 90 days. All the other parties seem to be happy, on the polls being held after the delimitations. The PPP had apparently decided with all the other parties of the PDM, that elections should be held on the basis of the new census. The very fact had the potential of delaying the elections. But now, the PPP has taken a rigid stance on elections to be held in 90 days according to the constitution. This U-turn of the PPP has added to the uncertainty about the future of politics in the country.
There are rumours of a float about a mysterious tiff between the establishment and the PPP. It is also said that alleged corruption charges against some PPP leaders are being fast tracked by the establishment. Some observers are also claiming that PPP’s campaign for holding elections within constitutionally prescribed period of 90 days, is basically sending a message to the powerful quarters, of not undermining them and preferring PML-N.
According to PPP insiders and sources privy to recent developments, the PPP was very close to bringing into its fold several PTI dissidents in all the four provinces. In Punjab PPP had established solid contacts with Jahangir Khan Tareen and other electables. PPP was also very hopeful of bringing many electables from Southern Punjab into the Party. The situation, however, changed dramatically when Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP) was launched.
Similarly, in the KP, the PPP was in close contact with Pervaiz Khattak, who seemed interested in joining the PPP. Pervaiz was certain to bring more electables with himself. But all this fizzled out when the PTI–Parliamentarians was formed. In Balochistan, several leaders of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) including the Ex-Chief Minister Abdul Qadus Bizenjo were inclined to join PPP. But later on the desire of the Establishment, many (BAP) leaders including Jam Kamal met with Maryam Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif. The PPP demand for fresh elections and their criticism of hike in fuel and commodities prices could be seen in this regard.
An extraordinary meeting of the PPP’s Central Executive Committee was called last week. The meeting was chaired by both Bilawal and his father Ex-President Zardari. After a long time, Mr. Aitzaz Ahsan also attended the meeting in person. The Party Chairman asked Mr. Ahsan to apprise the CEC on the constitutional position on the timeframe for general elections. Ahsan is said to have told the meeting that despite the Council for Common interests’ approval of the census and a need for delimitation of constituencies, the elections had to be held within 90 days according to the Constitution.
After the CEC meeting, some senior members of the PPP held a Press Conference and demanded that the ECP announce the elections within the constitutionally stipulated period of 90 days after the dissolution of the Assembly. Murad Ali Shah of PPP, responded to the criticism of PML-N and other parties, that he was present in the Council of Common Interests (CCI), and he did not object to the census results, or the elections being held on the basis of the new census Mr. Shah said in his defence: that he had approved the census results at the CCI meeting knowing that there would be no need for fresh delimitation of constituencies considering the number of seats in the assemblies would not change.
Some PPP insiders, privy to the CEC meeting of the party, alluded to the fact that if the elections were not held on time, the party may go to the Supreme Court. A delegation of ANP led by Main Iftikhar Hussain was told by the ECP that elections could be held by mid-February 2024. It was also promised to them that the ECP would expedite the delimitation process of the constituencies. The most important point here is, why does the PPP feel that they are being targeted by the establishment. There have been certain rumours that some PPP leaders are asked to leave the country.
The PML-N, on the other hand, seems to be quite fine, rather happy with a delay in elections, which is now almost a certainty. Shahbaz Sharif has also managed to create the impression that he may be the establishment’s Man of Choice, for the post of PM. Although the impression in the party is quite strong, that if the PML-N wins Nawaz Sharif would become the Prime-Minister for the fourth time. The PPP media coordinator Munawar Anjum replied to a question about PPP-Establishment relations: ‘’The PPP neither supports nor opposes the establishment. It supports democracy and the Constitution and opposes those who try to undermine them”. Considering some of the moves that the PPP is making these days and the crackdown that is taking place against the PTI, there may be a possibility that the two parties may come close on the election issue.
—The writer, based in Islamabad, is a former Health Minister of KP.
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