Election Watch Update - Mar 17

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the government has completed its five-year tenure. The National Assembly was dissolved at midnight. Dawn takes a look at the major events in the last five years. The federal cabinet’s tenure has also ended and eighteen ambassadors and high commissioners who were political appointees may be resigning. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf will continue working until a caretaker prime minister is nominated. The Express Tribune reports Ashraf may be disqualified if found guilty on charges of co-owning a company that has defaulted on Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority.

PM Ashraf also met with the chief ministers of Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab on Saturday to discuss holding elections countrywide on the same date, and said that the chief ministers agreed ‘in principle’ to this. However, the PML-N will be holding talks with the PPP and will be using the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly as a bargaining chip.

 The US State Department said on Friday that it looks “forward to timely, free and fair elections that’ll result in the first civilian, democratic transition in Pakistan’s history.”

The PPP and the PML-N are adamant to not accept each other’s nominees for caretaker prime minister. The PPP has nominated four people – including two PPP representatives and one each from the PML-Q and ANP - to represent the government on a bipartisan parliamentary committee that will eventually decide on the nominee.

The Express Tribune speculates that the candidacy of Dr Ishrat Husain – a former governor of the State Bank – for caretaker prime minister signals that the International Monetary Fund will negotiate a bailout package for Pakistan.

The Election Commission of Pakistan has refused to accept a Senate committee’s recommendation to form a separate committee to oversee the ECP and its planned reforms.

The ECP has reportedly retracted its ban on the diversion of development funds after the government told the ECP it could not release the ECP’s election fund because of the ban. The federal and the provincial governments will share the expenses of the elections.

Political parties must nominate their candidates for the reserved seats for women and religious minorities by March 24. Symbols for the elections will be allotted on March 19. 118 of the 227 political parties registered with the ECP have applied for symbols, with the PPP and the PML-N picking their traditional symbols of an arrow and a tiger respectively.

Najmazeb Umerzai may be the second woman to ever contest elections from Charsadda and has applied to Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party for her candidacy for NA-7. Politicians expected to contest this seat include Awami National Party chief Asfandyar Wali Khan.

The Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’s conditions for a truce with the PML-N includes that the party cannot field any candidates from Jhang, Rahim Yar Khan, Darya Khan, Khanewal, Sargodha, Bahawalpur and Layyah. The anti-Shia ASWJ – which is banned – is angry at the PML-N, who it has supported in the elections in the past, for having ASWJ critic Sheikh Waqas Akram join the party. A PML-N leader told Dunya that the actual dispute isn’t over Akram, but a shift in the PML-N’s policy – to appease foreign governments – that it will not ally itself with banned groups.

Geo News reports that PPP MNA Nabeel Ahmed Gabol (NA-248 Karachi-X) is joining the MQM. Gabol has been completely sidelined in his constituency of Lyari by the criminal syndicate, the Peoples Amn Committee, which has also been patronized and supported by the PPP.

Dunya speculates that Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz will be contesting elections from Raiwind. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairperson Imran Khan will run from Lahore and Mianwali but is reportedly being pressured by party workers to also contest seats in Swat and Peshawar. Khan won the NA-71 Mianwali-I seat in the 2002 elections.

The PML-N has had to sideline older political workers to make way for candidates from the PML-Q’s unification bloc in Gujrat, where it will be fielding Syed Noorul Hasan Shah on NA-106 Gujrat-III, currently held by the PPP’s Qamar Zaman Kaira. Shah has previously been a runner-up on this seat. Liaquat Bhadar and Mian Tariq Mehmood will be the party’s candidates for PP-112 and PP-113.

The Jamaat-e-Islami has nominated Khawaja Mohammad Waqar Khan for NA-53 Rawalpindi-IV and PP-7 Rawalpindi-VII and Professor Mohammad Waqas Khan for PP-8 Rawalpindi-VIII and will not be considering seat adjustments with the PML-N in Taxila. The parties have agreed to continue negotiations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The education degrees of five National Assembly legislators and 12 members of the provincial assembly have been challenged for being false.

Commentary:

Cyril Almeida writes that the government completing its five-year tenure should have been a happier moment, but the future ahead – a fragmented parliament, the PML-N’s ‘good extremism/bad extremism’ – isn’t a happy prospect. – Dawn

Aoun Sahi analyses the PML-N’s election manifesto and the lack of focus on counter-terrorism. - The News