Election Watch Update - Jan 23

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has “decided to formally start the consultation process” with political parties for the elections.

Government ministers will talk to the Election Commission of Pakistan over its countrywide ban on new recruitments in government jobs and diverting development funds to constituencies before the elections. In order to bypass the ban, the Sindh government may issue backdated appointment letters for the Excise and Taxation department.

Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim says that it would be difficult to conduct a new delimitation of constituencies in Karachi. The issue stems from a Supreme Court verdict [PDF] on the state of law and order in Karachi. The court had ordered the Election Commission to come up with a strategy on how constituencies could be redrawn to ensure that they would not be dominated by a single political group.

Verification of voter lists is currently underway in five districts in Karachi. While the Supreme Court had asked the commission to enlist the help of the military if required, Ebrahim says they have not needed them so far. Political parties had complained that voters had not been registered properly and that hundreds of constituents had been left off the rolls.

Jamaat-e-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hasan accused Muttahida Qaumi Movement workers of posing as Election Commission officers to verify voters’ lists in Karachi in an interview with Dawn News. Hasan also said that the country’s intelligence agencies need to stay out of the elections. “They always have a role,” he said.

Minhaj-ul-Quran leader Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri has announced that he will not contest the next elections, and neither will any member of his family. Qadri, who is head of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek political party, recently held a ‘long march’ from Lahore to Islamabad and staged a sit-in that culminated in an agreement with the PPP and its allies. Qadri was elected to the National Assembly in 2002 (NA-127 Lahore-X with 24,949 votes) and resigned in 2004 over differences with General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

According to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, his party ‘holds the key’ to whether elections will be held for all provincial assemblies on the same date, since it is up to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on whether he dissolves the assembly prior to the elections. Law Minister Farooq H. Naek said that the president will have to agree on this with all chief ministers.

The PML-N and the Pakistan Sunni Tehreek are considering an electoral alliance to counter Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s influence among Barelvi voters.

The Amir of Bahawalpur and head of the Bahawalpur National Awami Party Nawab Salahuddin Abbasi says he will contest elections from two seats in Bahawalpur and one in Rahim Yar Khan.

Candidates of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have filed nomination papers for the February 18 by-elections for Sindh Assembly seats. The Pakistan Peoples Party and Awami National Party have not filed papers, while the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional is boycotting the by-elections. Four seats are up for grabs - PS-101 Karachi-XIII, PS-103 Karachi-XV, PS-113 Karachi-XXV and PS-115 Karachi- XXVII.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Functional announced an electoral alliance with the Jalal Mehmood Shah-led Sindh United Party and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan. It has already struck deals with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur Rehman) in Sindh, and a larger alliance looks likely to include the PML-N, the Jatoi family’s National Peoples Party and the Awami Tehreek, led by Sindhi politician Ayaz Latif Palijo.

Commentary:

Rahimullah Yusufzai looks back at the political career of Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the former Jamaat-e-Islami head who passed away on January 6. Yusufzai says Ahmed – ‘the man with a missionary zeal’ was considering contesting elections from Nowshera and that his son Asif Lucman Qazi is likely to run for a National Assembly seat from the district. – The News

Nazir Naji writes about the lack of political leadership in the country, which has often led people to be attracted towards figures such as Imran Khan and Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri. He describes why the late Benazir Bhutto worked with Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri to launch an opposition movement against Nawaz Sharif during his second term as prime minister (1997-1999). Naji notes that it is rare for any country to see two massive political movements that have fizzled out, and asks what political parties can do in the ‘absence of political leadership’. – Dunya (Urdu)