Punjab, ready or not?

The announcement of an election schedule for the Punjab Assembly has failed to stem speculation.

Punjab, ready  or not?


he Election Commission of Pakistan has issued a schedule for elections to the Punjab Assembly to be held on April 30. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has kicked off its election campaign amid violent clashes with the police near Imran Khan’s Zaman Park residence in Lahore. It looks as if the PTI is the only party preparing for the elections with a belief that the polls will be conducted according to schedule. The other mainstream parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party, are not active in the same way.

After a suo motu hearing by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and a ruling that the elections had to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of an assembly or after the minimum delay thereafter, President Arif Alvi set the date for Punjab Assembly’s election. On Wednesday, the Election Commission of Pakistan issued a schedule for the elections.

The PTI, the most active political party for the elections in the Punjab, has been holding meetings to finalise its candidates. It has already finalised the candidates for the 29 seats for Lahore. Candidates from some other districts are also known as most of the previous ticket holders are being awarded the PTI tickets. Some of the party stalwarts have resented Khan’s decision of appointing former chief minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi as the party president. However, nobody has dared confront him publicly on this issue.

On Wednesday, Imran Khan had wanted to lead a rally from Zaman Park to Data Darbar to kick-start the PTI’s election campaign. However, the police did not allow the PTI rally to proceed. The resistance by PTI activists soon turned into a violent clash that left several people on both sides wounded. Ali Bilal, a staunch PTI worker, was brought to the Services Hospital with severe wounds. He was later declared dead. The PTI alleged that he was arrested during the clash and that the police later tortured and killed him. The Punjab government has rejected the allegation and claimed that the deceased was not arrested on Wednesday. After the clash, Khan deferred the rally saying that he did not want more violence.

Looking at other parties, one can see that the PML-N’s chief organiser Maryam Nawaz is fully engaged in the party’s reorganisation. She started her work from south Punjab and has been to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. She shifted her focus once again to the Punjab after the election schedule was announced. Recently, she has addressed mammoth rallies in Sargodha, Gujranwala and Sheikhupura. Her own activities indicate that she is ready for the polls. However, some other party leaders from the Punjab are not on the same wavelength. Most of them believe that elections will not be held on April 30 because of the census and the need for fresh delimitation of constituencies.

It looks as if the PTI is the only party preparing for the elections with a belief that the polls will be conducted according to schedule.

The PPP leaders have not been very visible in the Punjab recently. While Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is busy mending broken/ damaged diplomatic ties with the international community, former president Asif Zardari has stepped in and started contacting ticket holders in the province, especially in south Punjab. On Tuesday, he visited Vehari where he offered condolences to the family on the demise of a former PPP parliamentarian, Tochi Khan. He also visited Multan and met various former ticket holders. He has given the task of motivating the party’s supporters in south Punjab to former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and former governor Punjab Makhdoom Ahmad Mahmood.

Qamar Zaman Kaira, the senior PPP stalwart and and advisor to the prime minister, says, “The PPP has always believed in the constitution and the rule of law. While we think that the announcement of the election date by the president is unconstitutional, we are ready for elections.”

According to a PPP insider from the PPP Punjab secretariat, the PPP has received more than 150 applications for party tickets for the Punjab Assembly elections. More are coming in. However, most PPP leaders are also not sure that the elections would be held on April 30.

Some political leaders believe that the process of the first-ever digital census, followed by fresh delimitations, must be completed before the elections. However, this is not legally binding. Once the election schedule is announced, even if the census is incomplete and the process of constituencies’ delimitation not initiated, the polls must be held on basis of the previous census and delimitations. The census results and their consequences will therefore not be a sufficient reason for postponement of elections.

Section 58 of the Election Act, allows the ECP to reschedule an election on solid grounds. Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja has already told the Supreme Court that the required funds had not been released, that security agencies had not pledged support and the judiciary was reluctant to provide manpower for the election process.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher

Punjab, ready or not?