Election Watch Update - Mar 22

Note: My brief comparison of the PPP and PML-N manifestos for The Friday Times is available here.

The bipartisan parliamentary committee was unable to pick a caretaker prime minister for a second day running. PPP representatives on the committee said they were considering all four nominees on equal grounds, not on the basis of who had nominated them. If the committee does not pick a candidate today, the ECP will have to finalize a caretaker prime minister. The PPP has reportedly also found a new angle to dispute – it wrote a letter to the National Assembly speaker objecting that the committee members did not represent all political parties, just the PML-N. The PML-N opted not to take on JUI-F because of fears that the latter would pick the government’s candidate.

While the JUI-F was sidelined in the caretaker prime minister nomination process by the PML-N, party chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman says he has no dispute with the PML-N. Rehman  said his party would hold a bigger rally in Lahore than PTI’s. The PTI expects half a million people to attend its rally in Lahore on March 23. The JUI-F will be releasing its election manifesto on March 31 and has asked potential candidates to apply for party tickets by March 29. The iconic former film actor Mussarrat Shaheen plans to contest elections against Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Shaheen last ran against Rehman in 1997 as an independent candidate from the NA-18 Dera Ismail Khan-Tank constituency and won 3,131 votes.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly advised former president Pervez Musharraf to not return to Pakistan. The former army chief, who seized power in a coup in 1999, is expected to arrive in Karachi on March 24 after living in self-imposed exile in London and Dubai.

According to The Friday Times’ gossip section, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is reportedly very critical of some of the choices made by the PPP and how the party is being managed. The TFT also reports that Shahbaz Sharif will not opt to be Punjab chief minister again if the PML-N comes to power, and will become the minister for energy instead. The potential candidates for Punjab chief minister will be Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Khawaja Asif.

Nawab Ghous Buksh Barozai has been nominated as Balochistan’s caretaker chief minister.

MQM chief Altaf Hussain has asked the ECP to extend the date for submitting nomination papers by a week. Hussain claimed that the MQM would win elections in the province.

The National Party and the Balochistan National Party-Awami have begun the process of finalizing candidates for the elections. Balochistan National Party-Mengal head Sardar Akhtar Mengal is planning to return to Pakistan on Monday and will announce next week whether his party will contest the elections.

PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi is expected to contest elections from his home constituency of Multan (NA-148 Multan-I), as well as from Sindh. Qureshi announced he was joining the PTI at a rally in Ghotki, Sindh in 2011.

Sikandar Bosan and Jamal and Awais Leghari are expected to defect to the PML-N today.

Google has launched an elections page for Pakistan, featuring search trends and links to reportage on the elections.

The Express Tribune studies the trends emerging from by-elections, noting that the PML-N has led in the number of seats won in the last five years.

The PML-N will ask candidates to submit affidavits on their financials, which the ECP plans to check in detail this year.

Dawn looks at the inevitable disintegration of the PML-Q as more high profile candidates leave the party. MNA Raza Hayat Hiraj (NA-156 Khanewal-I) is also expected to quit.

The Senate’s sub-committee on elections will be responding to the ECP’s objection that the committee had no mandate to monitor its performance.

Commentary:

Najam Sethi says Punjab will be the key battleground in the next elections, which may be the fairest in the country since 1970. – The Friday Times

Saleem Saifullah looks at the support (or lack of it) by countries such as the US, Saudi Arabia and Iran for Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari. – The News

Iftikhar Ahmed says voters must quiz and vote for political parties based on their policies on key issues such as the energy crisis and terrorism - if they fail to do so, they are as accountable as the politicians they vote in. - Jang

Talat Hussain says Pervez Musharraf’s return will be a test for the PML-N, given the party’s strong opposition to him, and whether it backs seeing Musharraf being tried for his alleged crimes. – The Express Tribune