Election Watch Update - Mar 20

Pakistan's elections have been scheduled for May 11, 2013. 

Negotiations on the caretaker prime minister were unsuccessful on Tuesday as well, paving the way for the issue to be handled by a bipartisan parliamentary committee, which includes representatives of the PPP, ANP, PML-Q and the PML-N. The committee has to make a decision within three days and will meet on Wednesday. The chairperson of the committee is the ANP's Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. If the committee does not make a decision – as Leader of the Opposition, the PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan claims – then the Election Commission of Pakistan will have to decide from candidates picked by the prime minister and the opposition leader.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee met on Tuesday to discuss the military’s support to the ECP for the elections.

The ECP allotted symbols to 144 political parties except the PPP and the PPP-Shaheed Bhutto, owing to a dispute raised by Benazir Bhutto’s former aide Naheed Khan over allotting the PPP name to her bloc of PPP dissidents. The ECP will decide who gets the PPP’s traditional symbol of an arrow on March 25. The PPP led by Benazir Bhutto is registered with the ECP as the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians and is officially headed by Makhdoom Amin Fahim. It contested the elections in 2002 and 2008 as the PPPP. The PPP headed by President Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is reportedly an ‘association’ and not a political party, according to a statement by the president’s lawyer in the Lahore High Court. This difference was brought up in a case being heard by the Lahore High Court on the legality of Zardari holding two positions – heading a political party and being the president of the country. The Pakistan Peoples Party-Shaheed Bhutto, formed by Murtaza Bhutto and led by his wife Ghinwa Bhutto after his death, has also asked the ECP to allow it to use the PPP name. Naheed Khan, on the other hand, has asked for the PPP name but her group of party dissidents has not been registered with the ECP as a political party.

The Sindh and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies have been dissolved. Retired judge Zahid Qurban Alvi is expected to be named Sindh’s caretaker chief minister. The MQM has reportedly asked for a 50% representation in the caretaker cabinet in Sindh. The Punjab Assembly will be dissolved after party head Nawaz Sharif confers with allies. An alliance of parties in Balochistan has proposed seven candidates for caretaker chief minister: retired judges Javed Iqbal, Amanullah Yaseenzai, Ahmed Khan Lashari, Chaudhry Abdul Qadeer, as well as Jam Kamal Khan, Sardar Inayatullah Zehri and Aurangzeb Kasi.

Lawyer and activist Asma Jahangir does not want to be in the running for caretaker chief minister of Punjab. Dunya TV head Mian Aamir Mehmood has also turned down the offer. The PPP has now nominated former Lahore High Court judge Zahid Hussain.

The Express Tribune analyses the PML-N’s election strategy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Talks between the JUI-F and the PML-N on seat adjustments aren’t looking promising, given that both parties don’t want to accept each other’s demands.

The PML-N held a well-attended rally in Gilgit on Tuesday. The Guardian looks at the PML-N’s pre-election moves, such as building Lahore’s Metro Bus system and the laptop giveaway scheme for students.

The PML-Q suspended seat adjustment talks with the PPP, blaming the PPP for trying to get its members to defect. On Tuesday, PML-Q MNA Sardar Bahadur Ahmed Khan Seher (NA-181 Layyah-I) and former legislator Niaz Ahmed Jhakkar joined the PPP. 

The MQM has denied reports that it has an alliance or a seat adjustment policy with Pervez Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League.

Former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s (NA-177 Muzaffargarh-II) dispute with Jamshed Dasti (NA-178 Muzaffargarh-III) sparked again this week. Dasti recently quit the PPP over the party’s preference for the Khars. Hina Rabbani Khar has accused Dasti of defrauding the country by contesting the elections with a fake degree and said he works independently of party policy. Khar also said that while her family may be landowners, they are working to serve the people.

The PPP is facing a split in its Nowshera chapter, with three groups contending for election tickets.

Despite differences among PTI members in Haripur, the party is confident it will win the three seats in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district – NA-19 and the two associated provincial assembly seats – PF-49 and PF-50. PTI’s recent internal election in Khyber Agency has also sparked arguments in the party’s chapter with one group refusing to accept the results.

The PML-Q has formed a committee to interview potential candidates for the National Assembly and provincial assemblies.

The Express Tribune takes a look at the Sindh electoral roll, which has decreased by a million voters compared to 2008 and has seen a surprising jump in Ahmadi voters.

The National Accountability Bureau has established an election cell that will work with the ECP. The ECP will be liaising with the National Database and Registration Authority, the State Bank and the Federal Bureau of Revenue as well to verify candidates for the elections.

Diplomats have been briefed on the code of conduct for observers for the elections. The code of conduct is available here.

Developing an electronic voting system for Pakistanis living abroad to vote in the elections will take up to a year, according to the Attorney General. The ECP has also told the Supreme Court – which is hearing a petition on the issue – that it did not have the resources to develop a system for the upcoming elections, the drawbacks of voting online as well as the law that requires voters to be registered in their constituencies.

Commentary:

Ahmed Rashid provides an overview of the violence that has preceded the elections and says that polls should not be delayed. Instead, he calls for the army and the government to work together and carry out military operations against extremists before the elections. – The New York Review of Books

Muhammad Ziauddin predicts that the real contest in the elections will be between the PML-N and the PTI. He notes the departure of PPP loyalists in recent days to other parties, but says it is too early to count the PPP out of the race. – The Express Tribune

Mosharraf Zaidi warns of the dangers of a caretaker government overstepping its mandated role. – The News

Nazir Naji criticizes political parties for their inability to pick a caretaker prime minister, specifically not being able to nominate a politician. – Dunya