The house went through the motions of taking up the bills bounced back by the governor and passing them on Wednesday, a dull exercise that many members decided to skip. The lack of drama, plus problems with the air-conditioning, meant most of the press corps was to be found in the assembly cafeteria rather than the house.
There, a group of PML-N MPAs engaged in a heated debate with two PPP members about whether this was the last assembly session before the caretakers are called in. As expected, the PML-N members pushed for early elections, saying a caretaker government should be put in place soon after the Eid break. They thought it was time for them to go back to their constituencies instead of “wasting time here in Lahore”.
The PPP members insisted that their PML-N colleagues were engaging in wishful thinking and the elections would be held in February, when the legislature’s term ends. They argued that President Asif Zardari had hinted as much on many an occasion.
Looking at the debate, the two sides weren’t actually that far apart. If elections are to be held in February, as the PPP members said, the assemblies would still have to go in late November to make way for a caretaker set-up. Though the Constitution does not make it mandatory, calling in neutral caretakers has become a tradition essential for holding credible elections.
If the caretakers are to be installed after Eid, as the PML-N members wanted, elections still wouldn’t be possible before December, as the interim administration would need time to make all the necessary arrangements. So give or take two months, we will have elections soon. The question then becomes, why does the PML-N want elections before the PPP?
For the PML-N, the sooner the elections are held the better. Its members figure that with the power crisis and tanking economy ensuring strong anti-PPP sentiment, now would be a good time to go to the polls. Also, early elections are perhaps not best suited to Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf, which is figuring to be the PML-N’s biggest challenger in the Punjab. The PTI is currently re-organising, holding party elections, setting up committees and running a membership drive. The PML-N hopes early elections would come too soon for the PTI.
For the PPP, however, it seems the party wants to make hay while the sun is shining. Many of their detractors seem to think it will be the party’s last chance, since voters would surely punish the party for its five-year performance on energy, law and order and the economy, even if the elections were moved a couple of months back.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2012.
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