Election Watch Update - Feb 3

President Asif Ali Zardari will announce a date for the elections between March 8 and March 14, according to Law Minister Farooq H. Naek. Naek also said he did not see any efforts to install a long-term interim government, unlike statements made by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and PPP leader Raza Rabbani.

The PPP is reportedly trying to bypass PML-N leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, on talks over the caretaker government.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement will contest elections independently and not as part of an electoral alliance. The party has usually – save for seat adjustments – done this and then joined the Sindh and/or federal government after elections. MQM chief Altaf Hussain also announced on Saturday that the party would not be speaking to the PPP’s interlocutors until a ‘consensus’ is reached on ‘longstanding issues’, which it did not elaborate on.

The Senate was told that the electoral rolls will contain thumb impressions and photographs of registered voters. [PDF] While there are 4.3 million Pakistanis living abroad who are automatically registered to vote, they will not be able to because there is no legislation for them to vote via overseas ballot or a way for them to vote at Pakistan consulates/embassies.

The ECP says it has deleted 37.5 million voters who could not be verified. An ECP official said on Saturday that the commission would be meeting with the Federal Board of Revenue and State Bank of Pakistan on February 7 to discuss how to bar would-be candidates who have defaulted on bank loans, utility bills etc.

PPP MPA Chaudhry Fayyaz Ahmed Warraich (PP-232 Vehari-I) has joined Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s political party, the Pakistani Awami Tehreek.

USAID has announced grants worth $2.5 million for Pakistani civil society organizations for “increasing voter turnout; advocacy against discrimination against voters or barriers for voting; engaging youth voters for a proactive and constructive role in ensuring peaceful elections; and creating awareness about conflict resolution mechanisms relating to polls.”

Commentary:

Saroop Ijaz looks at the debate on nominees for the caretaker government – calling the discourse “disheartening” – and calls for an end to the retired judges and generals for high profile positions. Ijaz also defends lawyer Asma Jahangir and says her nomination would be a ‘breath of fresh air’. – The Express Tribune