Only low-profile prime ministerial hopefuls are left in the field



Sep 23 - 29, 2002

With the release by the Election Commission of the final list of the candidates for the upcoming elections to the National & Provincial Assemblies the stage is finally set for Oct. 10 exercise which should put at rest the doubts and uncertainties about the holding of the elections.

If you go by the number of candidates who have filed nominations, the coming elections are going to be of historic importance. Never before so many contestants have entered the arenas. A total of 12,308 are in the run for 342 seats, of the National and 728 seats for four provincial assemblies including reserved seats for women and minorities. In all 13668 candidates had filed the nomination but 1360 candidates withdrew on the last day. There are however little signs of normal election activity and normal ferver on such occasions. There is no enthusiasm among the voters who appear to be indifferent to the ongoing exercise. Even the newspapers have not really got into the election act. If it continues as such the Oct. election would be most colourless in Pakistan's history.

The turn out is likely to be very low. The last decade has witnessed a steady decline in voters interest. After great sacrifices the people brought back democratic role in 1988, but the two tenure each by two major parties the Pakistan People Parties headed by Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan Muslim League of Nawas Sharif failed to solve people problems and bring good governance.

During all this period the army kept lurking in the shadows and whose behind the scene interventions only served to confound the confusion, finally struck in Oct. 99 and has since been in the saddle. This time round, of course, it has resolved not to return to the barracks without formally entrenching itself in the political system.

This has compelled them to indulge political wheeling dealing through the "King's Party" comprising of political mediocres who have no mass appeal. Under the prevailing situation it is almost like the voters stand aside and allow the political drama unfold quite independent of their existence.

The Chief Election Commissioner is taking pains to convince the public that elections are going to be fair and the entire process would be most transparent. It has taken many steps to ensure that election results are not rigged or manipulated. According to the procedure announced by the Election Commission, the votes will, as previously, be counted at each polling station in presence of the polling agents to whom a signed statement of the result of each polling station will be transmitted to the returning officer of the constituency who is to consolidate the same and obtain thereon signatures of the candidate or his agent. This preliminary result will be announced locally by the returning officer and a copy pasted at a prominent place It will then be transmitted to the Election Commission for releases to the media. The election commission has also warned civil and military bureaucracy and district Nazim and their naibs to get ready to loose their jobs and face imprisionment for two years if they are found involved in any type of interference or manipulation in the election process. All these steps are reassuring but the real test of election commission's impartiality will be its decision on the complaint of Tehrik Insaf Chief Mr. Imran Khan that the Chief organisers of the "Kings Party" Choudhries of Gujrat should be debarred from contesting coming election as they had got their bank loans of about 24 crores written off. Under the law no such person can contest the coming election and Imran Khan has released to press, apparently, convincing proof that choudhries of Gujrat as they had got their bank loans of about 24 crores written off.

It is, however, now clear that only low-profile prime ministerial hopefuls are left in the field after the ouster of top leaders from what opposition parties fear will be the most manipulated elections in the country's history. None of these aspirants all from the politically dominant Punjab and Sindh personally carries a nationwide appeal, which their parties contesting the elections from all the four provinces, have.

The absence of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from the scene has thrown up Makhdoom Amin Fahim of the People's Party Parliamentarians and Raja Zafrul Haq of Pakistan Muslim League (N) as potential candidates for the prime minister versus Mian Muhammad Azhar of the PML (Quaid-i-Azam).

Mr. Fahim can be most sure of all the aspirants to win his seat to the National Assembly and party nomination for prime minister if Ms. Bhutto's slender hopes for the office are finally crushed. A weak independent candidate is challenging Mr. Fahim at his Hala bastion, where his religious gaddi can still resist inroads from political rivals or what the PPP calls official interference to benefit the PML(Q). The soft-spoken Fahim, who holds the title of Pir of Hala, has been a minister of state in the cabinet of the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and a minister in both the governments led by Benazir Bhutto.

Attention focused on Zafarul Haq as a probable PML(N) nominee for premiership last week after an appellate election tribunal rejected the nomination papers of Shabaz Sharif and Kulsoom Nawaz on the ground that their signatures were not attested by the Pakistani consulate in Jeddah and alleged loan default.