After the parliament completes its tenure on March 18, it will be the first time in Pakistan's history that a democratically elected government will oversee a transition. Elections must be held within 60 days after the parliament is dissolved - no later than May 17.
Although the country is facing a myriad of crises, none of them warrant a delaying of the elections. But a feeling of uncertainty looms over the country. Politicians and analysts fear there may be attempts to derail democracy.
PPP leaders say their party is determined to hold free and fair elections on time
Veteran People's Party leader Raza Rabbani said he was concerned "anti-democratic forces" might try to create conditions like those in 1977. He did not specify who he was talking about. "A sword is hanging over democracy until the election of a prime minister after the polls," he said. "A plan is afoot to constitute an unconstitutional caretaker government for two or three years."
Awami National Party is a coalition partner of PPP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Its senior leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who is also the provincial information minister, stated on January 28 that a conspiracy was in progress to delay the coming elections.
"We have been hearing such rumors for quite some time," PML-N legislator and columnist Ayaz Amir said. "[Tahirul] Qadri's sudden arrival and long march had lent credence to such rumors. But the way the PPP government handled him, such rumors had died. There is no valid reason to delay the elections. I am unable to understand why such uncertainty is being created."
Amir's colleague Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who is the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, is also concerned. On January 27, he said free and fair elections would remain an elusive dream unless the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was given a free hand to carry out the task. "We will stage a march from Parliament House to the ECP office to demand empowerment of the ECP," he said. "We will not allow [President] Zardari to install a caretaker set-up of his own choice in Sindh and Balochistan. After consultation with other political parties, we will stage a sit-in outside the Parliament House next week." He also demanded the removal of all provincial governors before the elections. PPP Punjab president Mian Manzoor Wattoo declared Nisar's demands unconstitutional.
PML-N president Mian Nawaz Sharif said the PPP's recent move to call for a new province in southern Punjab was a conspiracy to delay the elections.
Politicians and analysts fear there may be attempts to derail democracy
Difa-e-Pakistan Council, an extreme rightwing alliance of religious and political parties also wants to be consulted about the caretaker setup, although it has claimed to be an apolitical forum in the past. Together with Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, it has rejected Asma Jehangir as caretaker prime minister.
In Karachi, Jamaat-e-Islami and other religious and political parties held a three day sit-in protest in front of the Sindh Election Commission office to demand a fair process of voter verification in Karachi, under the army's supervision. JI Sindh's Emir Dr Mirajul Huda Siddiqui accused Chief Election Commissioner Fakhruddin G Ibrahim of supporting the MQM because his Bohri community was being targeted in sectarian violence. The CEC assured them their demands would be met.
PPP leaders say their party is determined to hold the elections on time, in a free and fair manner, but they are not always taken seriously.
On January 29, addressing the Gujjar Khan Bar Association, Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf said the military, the judiciary and all political forces support democracy.
But The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the arrest of Raja for his alleged corruption in rental power projects, asking National Accountability Bureau chief Admiral (r) Fasih Bokhari to file a reference against him and the other accused. Bokhari threatened to resign in a letter addressed to the president, accusing the SC of influencing the outcome of the coming elections.
Critics of the PPP say it wants to delay the elections because of its co-chairman Bilawal Bhutto. "If the PPP holds the elections on time, Bilawal will not be able to contest, because he would not be 25 until September," Daily Ummat said in an analysis.
A PPP insider said last year that the party knows it has lost its popularity because of bad governance and corruption, and may not be able to win the coming elections.
A recent survey of International Republican Institute (IRI) endorses this feeling. According to the survey, the PML-N is the most popular party, followed by the PTI on number two and the PPP on number three.
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist/researcher.
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