Election Watch Update - Jan 25

President Asif Ali Zardari has reportedly offered Pir Pagara the caretaker prime minister position. Pir Pagara is the leader of the Hur tribe in the Sindh and the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, but the move may put the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s planned alliance with the PML-F into question.

The PML-N has ‘overhauled’ its list of nominees for caretaker prime minister. Only Mahmood Khan Achakzai, the head of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, is on the new list. The previous list also included Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal, Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, Awami Tehreek head Rasul Bux Palijo, Asma Jahangir, Justice (retd) Shakirullah Jan and the late Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed.

The PML-N may approach Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairperson Imran Khan to discuss the caretaker government, as part of its consultations with all opposition parties, even though the PTI has no representation in any assembly. Khan, who was in Davos for the World Economic Forum, said his party will sweep the next elections.

The British High Commissioner to Pakistan Adam Thompson noted in a briefing for journalists that change in Pakistan cannot come “by storming parliament or prolonging a caretaker government beyond the constitutional provisions. It needs to be through the ballot box”. Thompson said that, “The point we are trying to make is that democracy is not just about elections. It is about living up to the standards you set.  It is about politicians as role models. It is about earning the trust of the people and delivering for the people.”

The Election Commission of Pakistan’s administrative powers over the executive will be further affirmed after the electoral reforms bill is passed, an official told The News. Law Minister Farooq H. Naek and Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khursheed Shah met Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim to discuss the ECP’s directive to ban recruitment for government jobs before the elections. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s health ministry is asking for an exemption from the ban.

Express News reports that the government has decided to dissolve the assemblies by March 10, pending negotiations with the Punjab government to dissolve the provincial assembly. The government ends its tenure on March 16, though the Punjab Assembly ends on April 8. The provincial assemblies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan will complete their constitutional terms on March 27, April 4 and April 8, respectively, though the Pakistan Peoples Party is in majority in these provinces, or has a working relationship with majority parties, and will be able to dissolve assemblies easily. The Punjab Assembly is dominated by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, and the party has already said it ‘holds the key’ to whether elections for the national and provincial assemblies are held on the same date. Elections must be held within 90 days after assemblies are dissolved.

PML-N leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has asked for the governors in all four provinces to be replaced with apolitical ones before the elections. The current governors are: Dr Ishrat-ul-Ebad Khan (MQM – Sindh), Zulfiqar Magsi (Ind/PML-Q - Balochistan), Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood (PPP – Punjab), Syed Mehmood Kausar (PPP - Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). Nisar also said that elections should be held within 60 days of the assemblies being dissolved, not 90.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has given the symbol of scales to the Jamaat-e-Islami, which had also been requested by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. The Election Commission has suggested that the PTI apply for the symbol for a torch or a hill. Symbols play an integral role in voting in Pakistan since they feature on the ballot paper. The PML-N’s symbol is a lion, the PPP uses an arrow and the PML-Q has a cycle.

Commentary:

Shaheen Sehbai writes about the role of the caretaker government, making the case that it will have to implement Supreme Court verdicts and play a role in economic, domestic and foreign policy as well as the state of law and order. – The News

Iftikhar Ahmed says that the country’s two biggest political parties – the PPP and the PML-N – have failed to strengthen the party structure in the past five years, which has led to this ‘market of electables’ that is currently in play. Ahmed writes that instead of trying to win over electable candidates, parties must strengthen themselves which would in turn benefit the political system in the country – Jang (Urdu)