With completion of the third crucial phase i.e. the
Scrutiny of nomination papers on Sunday last, the stage is now set for
Oct. 2002 general elections leaving behind a few but vital casualties.
With lifting of bans on political activities, electioneering campaign
also ensued but not in a big way as is normal at such times.
The government has relaxed the ban imposed on
political activities in early 2000 from Sept. 1 on outdoor political
activities. The procession and rallies are however, still banned and
outdoor public meetings can be held only at places specified by the
local administration. Corner meetings are being held but surprisingly
with no enthusiasm shown from general public.
During the scrutiny of candidacy, however, there were
no large scale ouster. The reason was that most of hereditary
politicians who stood disqualified for one reason or the other did not
jump in the electoral field themselves and, instead, put forward their
scions to maintain control over power. The scrutiny process, however,
sprung may surprises which provided justification and some credence to
the charges of "pre-pool rigging" and bias levelled against
the government from some quarters.
The bias of these subjectively prepared laws was at
its peak when the returning officer in Ratto Dero declared that the
two-time prime minister and PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto could not
contest election for having failed to appear before a court in a
corruption case. This was a surprise especially when election
authorities in Lahore cleared the nomination papers of another two-time
prime minister Nawaz Sharif, a day before, despite his conviction.
However, the explanation given was that the government had pardoned him.
This must have happened either because the laws that determine the
validity of candidates are not clear or just that the regime is somehow
engaged in the process, though keeping an independent facade. Or is it
just a case of the double standards between Lahore and Larkana, an
accusation promptly raised by PPP leaders.
Giving the devil his due one must appreciate the
political acumen of Nawaz Sharif which he demonstrated by promptly
withdrawing his nomination paper reportedly "as a gesture of
solidarity with PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto and the protesting people
of Sindh province". There can be many interpretations of this
gesture . Firstly, he has tried to oblige BB, because he cannot return
to Pakistan under the controversial deal with the present Government.
President Musharraf has said repeatedly that Nawaz Sharif is out for a
period of ten years. Secondly, it may be a genuine act of solidarity as
both the former prime ministers are currently sailing in the same boat
after having been eased out of the national politics. Thirdly, it may be
the consequence of the PPP-PML(N) 'seat adjustment' process.
Irrespective of these interpretations, however, the fact is that the two
major political parties, having solid vote bank in the electorate, are
today united to contest the October elections and to confront the
Musharraf Government. The 'credit' for this scenario obviously goes to
the government's political and election strategists, who have rendered
Gen Musharraf politically isolated, in their own 'Wisdom'.
A total of 4020 candidates, including 379 women,
filed nominations for 342 National Assembly seats. For 728 provincial
assemblies seats, 9648 candidates, including 913 women, came forward.
The number of rejected nominations, hardly a few dozens, is highly
negligible compared to the record filing of candidature papers. The
rejections by the returning officers are not final, and the affectees
have the right to appeal before the seven high court judges-chaired
election tribunals. After that, the contestants can knock at the doors
of the Supreme Court.
In any case the October 2002 elections are going to
be different from past ones. Elections here are usually associated with
hullabaloo, rented crowds, boisterous processions, brandishing of
kalashnikovs and disrupted traffic. The normal life of citizens comes to
a halt. The attendance in offices and factories gets thinner and thinner
with the approaching election date. But this time nothing of this sort
is going to happen. The government order of Aug 27 lifting the ban on
public political activities aims at civilising the electioneering so
that people are not inconvenienced and the life goes on normally.
According to this order, rallies and processions on roads, streets,
railway stations shall not be allowed as part of the political activity.
This is a welcome decision because processions invariably get
disorderly, they disrupt traffic, they are a source of harassment to
shopkeepers, they impact negatively on commerce and industry, and they
have the common tendency of getting unruly. The government is working on
a formula to provide TV and Radio time to the political parties to
project themselves. The reach of the TV and Radio is much greater than
any public meeting, which could only command audience in thousands
though claims go as high as half a million. TV and radio on the other
hand could carry the message nationwide. The political parties and
leaders should take full advantage of the electronic exposure by
preparing their respective case convincingly before appearing on the TV